The Chinese People's Liberation Army, 1980-82: modernisation, strategy and politics

Author/s (editor/s):

Ngok Lee

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 28

For some years China has played the role of a latent, de facto partner in the Western security alliance system, thereby contributing to world stability. Her capacity to tie down a high proportion of Soviet conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons is one reason why the West should maintain good relations with China. It is a simple but vital truth that armies deployed in the Far East cannot simultaneously be used in the European theatre.

Dr Ngok Lee has made an extensive study of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). He believes that economic constraints have forced China to depend on her own efforts even while seeking foreign technical help. As the same time, Sino-American differences over Taiwan have developed during the Reagan administration to a stage which probably prevents China from seeking US arms.

Dr Lee analyses China's strategy for national defence ('People's War') under modern conditions as a defence doctrine based on a modification of Mao Zedong's military thought plus a political conscious people's army properly equipped and proficient in modern military thinking. The recently revitalised militia and its important logistical support for the PLA in turn constitute an integral part of the nation's security system. As an illustration he examines China's defence of the Northeast in the face of a possible Soviet conventional and/or nuclear attack. Finally, Dr Lee discusses politics in the PLA with a view to clarifying the complexities in China's implementation of her defence strategy. Such complexities exist despite the fall of Hua Guofeng and the predominance of Deng Xiaoping in the PLA as China continues to face entrenched Leftist influence, the political ills inherited from the Cultural Revolution and other problems arising from the fostering of the Four Modernisations.

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