China’s modernizing army: A look at the PLA’s evolution

World Today

The People’s Liberation Army–PLA–is among the world’s largest standing armies, and it’s taking on a greater role in international diplomacy while handling tensions on its land borders and sea disputes.

CGTN’s Owen Fairclough has more on the PLA’s history.

Follow Owen Fairclough on Twitter @owefair

Chinese troops who fought against Japanese invaders in Shanghai in 1937 included Communist Red Army soldiers who had formed as an insurgent guerrilla force ten years earlier.

Renamed the People’s Liberation Army after China’s revolution, it’s now one of the largest armies in the world.

But spending on defense had lagged behind countries like the U.S. for years–that is changing with China now ramping up defense budgets while increasing its global profile. The country just established its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

At the same time, military leaders want the PLA to be a leaner modern force – cutting troops by 300,000 this year.

“The PLA will perform its operations and its missions more effectively in a new historical period,” says Zhang Yijun, the Defense Attache to China’s embassy in Washington D.C.

China is expanding its armed forces as tensions flare over competing territorial claims with its neighbors in the South China Sea. It’s also traded barbs with the U.S., conducting military exercises in the region.

But Chinese officials insist they are not seeking conflict.

According to Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the U.S., “Military to military relations should be an important stabilizing factor in the overall China-U.S. relationship.”

Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump will have an opportunity to test that relationship when the U.S. leader visits China later this year.