Deng finesses the streamlining of China's Army. China's Army is being modernized. It is no longer a bastion of resistance to China's reform. Nor is it nearly as costly. Deng's success speaks to his leadership ability.
The People's Liberation Army, celebrating its 60th anniversary this week, has begun a long transition. Its modernization is well under way.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
No longer is it a stronghold of conservative political resistance to China's reform program. No longer is it a burden on the nation's finances.
Once the world's largest standing Army, whose strength was the determination and bravery of poorly educated peasant boys recruited from rural villages, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has accepted massive cuts in manpower and resources. Its senior officers have been forced to adopt a more modern approach to warfare. They have had to revise their emphases on sheer numbers of men over weapons, and ideology over expertise - principles based on the teachings of Mao Tse-tung that proved successful in guerrilla warfare more than four decades ago.
That these changes have come without serious political difficulties for Deng Xiaoping is a tribute to his leadership and a valuable legacy to his successors. Especially in the past two years, the armed forces have demonstrated their loyalty to the Communist Party by accepting major cuts in funds and personnel with hardly a word of complaint, at least in public.
This year the military budget is set at 20.4 billion yuan ($5.5 billion). This is slightly less than the 1986 allocation, but as a proportion of the total state budget, it is at a record low of 8.2 percent. At the time of China's 1979 invasion of Vietnam, the military accounted for 20 percent of the national budget. It was at 40 percent in the early 1950s during the Korean War.
1 million soldiers demobilized
In a dramatic announcement that received worldwide attention, Mr. Deng ordered the PLA to demobilize 1 million personnel in 1985. The demobilization is now complete, according to the Chinese press. With a little more than 3 million men, the PLA now stands in second place after the Soviet Red Army.
Observers comment that in 1987 the PLA is still not exactly lean. Some Western military attach'es speculate the armed forces could be ordered to shed another 500,000 men later this year.
Deng has begun streamlining the military with the help of his staunch allies Yang Dezhi, armed forces chief of staff, and Yang Shangkun, executive vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission. One crucial decision came two years ago when Deng announced that the ``forces for peace were growing'' and the Army no longer needed to prepare for an imminent world war. A period of general global peace was likely, Deng said, and China could modernize without the burden of a heavy defense program.
Deng and his reform-minded leadership have persuaded the defense establishment that its long-term interests are served by giving priority to strengthening China's agriculture, industry, and civilian technology. The generals have been promised that by the end of the century, when China is prosperous and the foundations of a modern industrial economy are well-laid, the resources for a more formidable military will be available.
Army influence peaked around 1970
Some observers say the PLA was at the height of its post-1949 political influence around 1970. At that time it brought the nation out of the anarchy of ultra-leftism by restoring order and stability after the first violent years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Except for a failed attempt to grab power by former Defense Minister Lin Biao in 1971, the military has generally not challenged the control of the Communist Party.
This has been partly because of the integration of the senior military officers with the party elite. But under Deng, generals have been removed from top party posts. The number of military uniforms in the party's Politburo was reduced from 10 in 1982 to three in 1985, plus one alternate member. The proportion of uniformed members on the 210-member Central Committee is now 22 percent, roughly half of what it was at the height of the PLA's political influence.