Defence Ministry denies troop levels will be halved

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 August, 2009, 12:00am

The Defence Ministry yesterday denied a widely circulated report that it would cut 700,000 soldiers in the next three years, but military insiders believe the reasoning behind the proposal is sound and could reflect the future of the armed forces.

A report claiming the People's Liberation Army would start another massive round of disarmament after the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic on October 1 had been appearing online and via text messages recently, the Hong Kong-based China News Agency reported.

The report claimed that up to 700,000 soldiers in the land forces would be cut, while the navy and air force would be increased by 120,000 each. The restructuring would be finished by 2012.

The proposal also suggested the first aircraft-carrier battle group would start service in 2013.

It said the number of military commands would be trimmed from seven to five. Chengdu in Sichuan and Jinan in Shandong were the two targeted for closure. Land force institutes, performance troupes, warehouses, communications, and social-security units would also be downsized.

The source of the speculation was unknown, but an unusually high-profile denial by the Defence Ministry shows that it has caught the attention of the authorities.

The ministry denied the speculations. 'All the discussions and conclusions [about military reform] being spread on the internet and mobile phones is untruthful,' a report posted on its official website said.

'Military reform is imperative under today's trends, but all reform can only be pushed ahead actively and steadily after in-depth research and deliberation.'

Retired PLA general Xu Guangyu said that despite the denial, the Defence Ministry acknowledged the need for further reductions in troop numbers.

'More reductions are inevitable, but they would not only focus on the land force,' Mr Xu said.

'In my view, we just need 1.5 million to 2 million troops for today's modern warfare.'

But he said it would be impossible for the PLA to cut 700,000 land troops within three years.

'We only have about 1.2 million land troops now. It doesn't make sense to suddenly cut more than half of the manpower within three years,' the retired general said.

The PLA claimed it had 6.27 million personnel at its peak in 1951, but this figure now stood at 2.3 million after 10 massive reductions.

A Shanghai-based retired senior colonel said this sort of thinking had been around for many years and reflected the views of some senior officers.

'The proposal is impractical, but the idea is totally correct and I believe it will be the future reform direction for the PLA,' the retired officer said on condition of anonymity.

'Many valuable young military technicians have been laid off, but many non-skilled officers have survived the 10 rounds.'

He said senior military cadres approaching retirement age had been assigned to institutes, warehouses, communications and social-security units thanks to their connections. But technicians in logistics departments and other valuable officers in practical units had been cut.

'The report also proposed many innovative ideas like cancellation of military sub-commands. But it will take a long time to reach this, as it will harm the current beneficiaries of the system.'