The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People’s Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as “PLA Day” — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China (CCP). The People’s Liberation Army’s insignia consists of a roundel with a red star bearing the Chinese characters for “Eight One” referring to August 1, the date of the 1927 Nanchang Uprising.
The PLA is the world’s largest military force, with approximately 3 million members, and has the world’s largest standing army, with approximately 2.25 million members. The PLA comprises five main service branches consisting of the PLA Ground Force, PLA Navy (PLAN), PLA Air Force (PLAAF), Second Artillery Corps (strategic nuclear or missile force), and the PLA Reserve Force. The People’s Armed Police (PAP), a Chinese paramilitary force under the dual leadership of the Central Military Commission and the Ministry of Public Security, is sometimes confused as a branch of the PLA (both the PLA and the PAP are under the lead of Central Military Commission).
Military service is compulsory, in theory, for all men who attain the age of 18; women may register for duty in the medical, veterinary, and other technical services at ages as young as 14. However, a draft in China has never been enforced due to large numbers of volunteers from China’s huge population. Demobilized servicemen are carried in a ready reserve, which is reinforced by a standby reserve of veterans and by the militia.
The PLA is formally under the command of the Central Military Commission of the CCP; there is also an identical commission in the government, but it has no clear independent functions. The Ministry of National Defense, which operates under the State Council, does not exercise any authority over the PLA and is far less powerful than the Central Military Commission (CMC).
The ministry assures continuing CCP control over the armed forces, and its primary role is that of a liaison office with foreign militaries. The political and military leaderships has made a concerted effort to create a professional military force restricted to national defense and to the provision of assistance in domestic economic construction and emergency relief. This conception of the role of the PLA requires the promotion of specialized officers who can understand modern weaponry and handle combined arms operations. Troops around the country are stationed in seven military regions and more than 20 military districts.
Chairman Hu Jintao has defined the missions of the PLA as: