China plans to cut back its army and boost the navy and air force, sources with ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said, extending its military reach and risking greater regional tensions.
China, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China today with a massive military parade, aims to cut its army by 700,000 troops over two to three years as part of its drive to turn the world’s biggest military into a leaner high-tech force, the sources said.
The PLA also plans to boost navy and air force personnel over that time, the sources said. Both requested anonymity to avoid repercussions for speaking to foreign reporters without authorization.
Xu Guangyu (徐光宇), a former PLA officer now at the government-backed China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said he had not heard of the 700,000 figure but was sure cuts were coming.
“After several years there will have to be more reductions so we can continue improving weapons and creating crack troops,” Xu said. “The land forces will remain dominant, but the navy and air force will rise as a proportion of the PLA.”
The cuts to land forces and additions to the other arms of the military would mean that PLA troop numbers shrink from 2.3 million, but the final tally was unclear.
China has cut troop numbers in recent years to make more money available for training and advanced weapons. Neither source was sure when the reduction, which needs the approval of the Central Military Commission headed by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), would take place. One of the sources said China plans to replace aged aircraft over the next three to five years.
Xu said the reductions could happen gradually over the coming decade.
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