- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

BEIJING — China yesterday announced plans to cut 200,000 more soldiers as part of efforts to modernize its armed forces — cuts that come atop a 500,000-man reduction in the five years ending in 2000.

Altogether, the military will shrink from about 2.5 million people to about 2.3 million.

The cuts will coincide with the introduction of more high-tech battle systems, military commission chief and retired President Jiang Zemin was quoted saying by state television and the official Xinhua News Agency.

“With the introduction of new technology, especially information technology, international competition in the area of military affairs is getting hotter,” said Mr. Jiang, who still heads the commissions of the government and Communist Party that control the military.

China’s military is still oriented toward ground combat with huge numbers of troops. Its planes, tanks and ships are antiquated, and its soldiers are poorly trained.

By reducing manpower, China can “maximize the use of its limited strategic resources and speed up information-technology development in the military,” Mr. Jiang was quoted as saying at 50th anniversary celebrations for the National Defense Science and Technology University.

For years, China has been upgrading specific units to higher technical levels and shifting focus from sheer numbers of soldiers. The announcement of further troop cuts suggests that strategy is being adopted and entrenched across the military.

Military leaders had mulled an even bigger cut of another 500,000 men by 2005 but wavered after the United States went to war in Iraq, putting its high-tech fighting force on display, said Maochun Yu, an observer of the Chinese military at the U.S. Navy Academy in Annapolis.

“The high command has been wobbling back and forth” on the issue, Mr. Yu said in a telephone interview. Commanders have wanted cuts to reduce the traditional primacy of ground forces over the navy and air force, he said.

Such cuts are problematic, however, because jobs must be found for former servicemen, and the military remains burdened with thousands of noncombat troops in areas such as logistics, propaganda and the party’s political-commissar system, Mr. Yu said.

“It goes beyond numbers to the question of what kind of people you cut,” he said.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has undertaken nine rounds of reductions since the Communist Party took power in 1949, falling from a high of about 6.2 million during the Korean War in 1951.

Chinese military planners consider the United States their biggest threat and have spent years trying to refocus their forces to keep up with American advances in modern warfare.

Beijing has spent billions of dollars in recent years upgrading its arsenal with Russian-made fighter jets, submarines and other weapons. China’s reported military budget rose by nearly 10 percent this year to $22.4 billion, though analysts say the true figure could be five times that.

The Chinese military also has shifted strategy to dovetail with its highest priority — uniting the island of Taiwan with the mainland.

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