The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest army in the world with about 2.2 million active personnel. An army with the second-largest military budget (approximately $230 billion). Prime facie, it certainly seems like a ferocious dragon and a force to reckon with. But as they say, not everything that glitters is gold. PLA too has a number of shortfalls plaguing it from within. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) often tries to sugarcoat PLA shortfalls. Through propaganda clips filled with fake bravado from its soldiers and fancy nationalist songs in the background, it tries to sell its paper dragon to the world. But, in reality, these theatrics prove to be as reliable as cheap Chinese goods.
On August 1, 2022, China mark its PLA raising day with a mass rally, complete with a military flyover and plenty of flag-waving and patriotic songs. China will use it to portray the PLA as an invincible force to the rest of the world. But, instead of relying on propaganda clips, all you need is a detailed analysis to know that all these claims fall flat on their face. In this article, we will expose some major flaws in PLA that are not widely known.
PLA – A POLITICAL TOOL
From time immemorial, nations have built armies to protect their citizens, their constitutions, and their borders from hostile powers. The Army as an institution is seen as an apolitical body with the sole purpose of serving its nation. In China, it’s vice versa. The PLA was built not to protect its people or the constitution, but to help the CCP consolidate power. The PLA is not a national army belonging to the state. Rather, it serves as the Communist party’s armed wing.
All the top generals of the PLA are Communist Party officials. It’s as if in India, political parties have their own army. In fact, it’s mandatory for new PLA recruits to swear allegiance to the communist party instead of the PLA to protect its citizens or constitution. PLA’s track record alone suffices to demonstrate this. The PLAs are often used by the CCP as mercenaries to assassinate political rivals or to massacre their own citizens (Tiananmen massacre).
PLA never failed to achieve its political objectives, and this is entirely due to the political indoctrination PLA received. In regular armies, the most important part is to learn how to be a soldier. But in China, political and ideological indoctrination is first and foremost. 30% of their training is devoted to learning party propaganda. This ratio rises to 40% during induction training. Xi Jinping seized complete control of the PLA as soon as he took power. This was done to allow the PLA to crush political dissent and to avoid any coup in the party. This is the sole reason why Xi, time and again, insists on the PLA’s absolute loyalty to the party.
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In defence circles, it is said that a leader leads his men through examples. A unit is only as good as its leader. But, what if the entire leadership is spoiled and rotten? Well, certainly it will ruin an entire army. The same goes for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China’s military is riddled with corruption since all the top brass of the PLA are basically communist officials. Several high-ranking members have been arrested for corruption, including “Xu Caihou,” who was the top military official during the Hu Jintao administration. According to serving and retired Chinese military officers, the extent of corruption in the PLA is so great that it could undermine its ability to wage war. Since 2012, more than 160 generals have been investigated for corruption, which is more than the total number of generals killed in the past 100 years of the history of the CCP.
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Another big name is Lt.Gen “Gu Junshan”, who was charged with embezzlement, accepting bribes, misappropriating, offering bribes, and abusing power. Gu had a philosophy in life that said money solves everything. So he bribed his seniors with money, gifts, houses, cars, and beautiful women to climb the higher ranks. Gu Junshan was the former Deputy Minister of the General Logistics Department of the Central Military Commission. To receive his promotion, he bribed Xu Caihou, the then vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, even with his daughter.
GENERAL XU CAIHOU
LT.GEN GU JUNSHAN
According to Liu Yazhou, Political Commissar of the National Defense University, “Gu sent female singers, actresses, and waitresses, and even dedicated his daughter to Xu Caihou.” These are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the People’s Liberation Army Daily, cases of corruption are covered up, sat on, or seriously downplayed. Soldiers are often afraid to report corruption as they think it might affect their own promotion chances or the honor of their regiment and that letting slip a few problems is harmless.
GENERAL GUO BOXIONG
All high-ranking generals investigated for corruption, including Gu Junshan, Xu Caihou ( Gu’s senior), and Guo Boxiong (Xu’s senior), embezzled state property worth billions of dollars. They even offered and accepted bribes for promotions. Most of these generals recruited or promoted female officers in exchange for sexual favors. Several PLA insiders claimed that buying and selling positions have permeated the entire Chinese military. Different positions have hidden prices, such as those at the general level costing at least $1.57 million US dollars, those at the major level costing more than $790,000 US dollars, and even enlisting as an ordinary soldier costs $1,500 to $3,000 US dollars. The border guards smuggle guns; the army guarding forests siphons off forest resources; the army guarding minerals embezzles mineral resources. Due to rampant corruption at all levels, the PLA has converted into a giant enterprise rather than a combat force.
PLA-UNPROFESSIONAL, INEXPERIENCED, AND POORLY MORALE
Armed forces throughout the world stand for professionalism, discipline, and commitment. But this can’t be said for PLAs who lack professionalism, experience, and morale. Even the CCP’s top brass is in a fix due to the poor quality of recruits and a lack of first-hand war experience by PLA soldiers. The Chinese army is often called an army of “little emperors”, as its soldiers are weak, pampered, and spoiled kids. The credit goes to the CCP’s one-child policy which had a detrimental impact on the overall Chinese army. Around 70% of PLAs are comprised of single children. These are children brought up as pampered “little emperors” by their parents and grandparents. The Study Times, a government publication in China, stated that the PLA is made up of “soldiers from the one-child generations who are wimps and have absolutely no fighting spirit.”
Another aspect of it is that, because most families have only one child, they often avoid sending them to the army. Confucian values still have a stronghold in Chinese society. Children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. So, if a soldier dies in the army, that’s not just the loss of a child; it could be the loss of an entire family line. Therefore, Chinese people don’t have a stomach for military casualties. This is one reason why China conceals its military casualties.
PLA LITTLE WIMPS CRYING AS THEY HEADED TO SINO-INDIAN BORDER
During the galwan clash in Ladakh, unlike the professional Indian Army that honored its fallen soldiers, China concealed its casualties. India, soon after the clash, revealed its casualty numbers and honored its Bravehearts. China, being unprofessional, said nothing in the beginning, but after 8 months, due to mounting pressure, revealed 4 casualties that indeed were false. According to Russian state media Tass, around 45 Chinese soldiers died in the clash. An Australian newspaper, The Klaxon, investigated and revealed that at least 38 Chinese soldiers were killed in the Galwan clash. Moreover, the entire episode started when the PLA breached all past agreements and acted as roadside goons, not a professional army. But a teeth-souring response by a professional army shocked the CCP that was only experienced in killing its civilians.
Apart from being unprofessional and filled with wimps, the PLA lacks combat experience. The PLA last fought a major conflict nearly 40 years ago, when a seasoned Vietnamese military demolished a bungled Chinese invasion in 1979. The ghost of that defeat still hovers over the PLA. Not only that, but the few combat veterans that remain in the army will soon retire. This means the PLA will soon have no soldiers with first-hand combat experience. This ultimately leads to poor morale among the military.
A Chinese submarine raises what might as well be a flag of surrender after being forced to surface near Japan’s Senkaku Islands in January 2018.
There are several instances in the past that exposed the PLA’s low morale during real-life situations. One such instance occurred in January 2018, when a Chinese submarine humiliatingly revealed its lack of high-level performance. The submarine, traveling undersea in a contiguous zone of Japan’s Senkaku Islands, was quickly detected by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. In no time, it surfaced and unhesitatingly raised the Chinese flag, which might as well have been a white flag of surrender; the crew feared their vessel could be attacked with depth charges. Under international law, the Japanese Self-Defense Force could have regarded the vessel as an “unidentified submarine” that had intruded into Japanese territorial waters while submerged. Many Japanese and U.S. officials believe the incident symbolizes the low morale of Chinese troops.
CHINESE TROOPS ABANDONED WEAPONS AND RAN AWAY FROM THEIR POST IN SOUTH SUDAN
Another such incident occurred in 2016 when Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan abandoned their weapons and ran away from their posts during a vicious outbreak of violence involving government and rebel groups. An unprofessional army with corrupt leadership, spoiled soldiers, and crippled morals is what sums up the People’s Liberation Army.