Modernizing the People's Liberation Army: The Human Factor Asie.Visions, n° 130, October 2022
The tremendous demographic challenges facing China will not significantly affect the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the immediate future, but will become more problematic in the medium and long term. The rapid aging of the population and the resulting socio-economic imbalances will put pressure on defense budgets, military wages and the general attractiveness of the army. For the time being, the PLA’s primary goal in terms of human resources is to build a less oversized, more professional army, prepared for high-intensity combat.
This objective is in line with the institutional reform of 2016, which shortened the chain of command and strengthened the political and ideological control of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over the PLA through an overhaul of the Central Military Commission (CMC).
This reform also involved a major restructuring of China’s armed forces. The PLA is pursuing a streamlining target that emphasizes quality over quantity. This qualitative improvement concerns equipment, forces and chains of command, and is driven by the need to elevate modernity, operational effectiveness and interoperability. An analysis of the evolution of the PLA Navy Marine Corps and the People’s Armed Police (PAP) demonstrates this qualitative upgrading trend and the prioritization of combat readiness.
To integrate increasingly modern and complex equipment, the PLA is also focusing on recruiting and retaining young conscripts and volunteers with a high level of education, in order to increase the number of commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The major reforms being carried out thus aim to enhance the status of the military so as to strengthen its economic and social attractiveness. On the other hand, the PLA, like other armies around the world, is confronted with societal phenomena such as internet addiction, near-sightedness and obesity, which hinder its ambitions and force it to make trade-offs in its selection standards.