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Xi Announces Plans to Trim Size of Armed Forces

By intern reporter Lin Zizhen

(Beijing) – President Xi Jinping announced during a major military parade on September 3 that China will cut the size of its armed forces by 300,000 personnel.

The reduction will leave the People's Liberation Army with around 2 million personnel and mostly be completed by the end of 2017, the Ministry of National Defense said.

"The downsizing is aimed at optimizing the military structure, making the armed forces more efficient," ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a press conference after the parade to commemorate the end of World War II. "It will be carried out in old and outdated units, administrative departments and non-combat troops."

Cong Wensheng, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, described the cuts as normal considering the size and function of the PLA.

This is the 11th time that the country has downsized its military since the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, and the fourth since reform and opening started in 1978.

The previous reduction was announced in September 2003 by the then chairman of Central Military Commission, Jiang Zemin. That move reduced the number of military personnel by 200,000 to 2.3 million by 2005.

The biggest cut since the 1970s came from 1985 to 1990, when 1 million officers and soldiers were laid off, nearly one-quarter of the armed forces.

In November 2013, a reform document issued after the third full meeting of the Communist Party's 18th Central Committee laid out plans for changes to the military, the structure of the armed forces. The party also pledged to reform the way the military managed personnel, capital and logistics.

In October, the fourth meeting of the 18th Central Committee highlighted the importance of enhancing the rule of law in the military.

The latest announcement by Xi has fueled expectations that the military is taking its first reform steps. Yang said that the CMC has researched the reform proposals and rolled out some measures, "such as enhancing the internal auditing mechanism of the military."

Yang said more reform measures will be put in place to steadily push forward reforms of the country's military and national defenses.

Cong said he believed the troop cuts are part of the reform measures announced by the party. The reductions are not meant to simply to downsize the military, but are intended to improve its structure, he said, and the changes will be followed by efforts to build and enhance the rule of law in military management.

Troop reductions and reshuffles in China from 1950 to this year

1950, 239,000 personnel cut

In April 1950, the Politburo announced a plan to downsize the military from 5.5 million troops to 4 million, and 239,000 officers and soldiers were laid off that year. However, the effort was interrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War later that year. By the end of 1951, the military had grown to 6.11 million personnel.

1952, 2 million

In January 1952, party chairman Mao Zedong approved a plan for a reorganization of the military. By the end of that year, 2 million personnel had left the military. The country's military spending was cut to 32.9 percent of total public spending, from 43 percent the year before.

1954, 21.2 percent

From February 1954 to December 1955, the size of the armed forces was cut by 21.2 percent to 3.5 million. Ground troops were scaled back the most, while special forces units were enhanced. Military spending fell to 24.1 percent of total public spending, from 34.2 percent in 1953.

1956-1958, 1.3 million

In three years after November 1956, the military personnel was cut by one-third to 2.4 million, the lowest since 1949. Technology was made a focus, as 32 percent of military personnel were technical specialists. In 1958, military spending accounted for 12.2 percent of total public spending.

1975, 600,000

The CMC announced troop cuts of 600,000 personnel in three years, starting with 1975. In 1976, the military was trimmed by another 13.6 percent.

1980

In March 1980, the CMC released a plan to streamline military departments and reduce the number of non-combatants, such as logistics staff.

1982

The CMC issued a reform plan that involved a merger and reshuffle of military departments and troops.

1985, 1 million

In July 1985, the Politburo and CMC announced a plan to cut the number of troops by 1 million, along with other reforms. By the end of 1987, the number of personnel had fallen from 4.24 million to 3.24 million. It further dropped to 3.2 million. A total of 1.04 million people left the military during the period, about 24.5 percent of the armed forces before 1985. The number of major military regions was also reduced from 11 to seven – namely Beijing, Shenyang, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Jinan, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

1997, 500,000

In September 1997, then CMC chairman Jiang Zemin announced troops cuts of 500,000 over three years.

2003, 200,000

In September 2003, Jiang announced another 200,000 troops would be cut, reducing the number of military personnel to 2.3 million. Reform of military logistics was launched.

2015, 300,000

President Xi Jinping pledges to cut the number of military personnel by 300,000 to about 2 million.

(Rewritten by Han Wei)

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