Chinese Political Objectives

Chinese Tactics > PART ONE: People’s Liberation Army Forces > Chapter 1: People’s Liberation Army Fundamentals > Chinese Political Objectives

1-10. A useful analysis of the tactics of the PLA must be underpinned by an understanding of Chinese political and strategic priorities and an understanding of the complex relationship between the PLA and the Communist Party of China (CPC). China’s history is deeply intertwined with its military—more so than any Western nation and possibly more so than any other country, except North Korea. The PLA was the vanguard of the Chinese Communist Revolution; its history, from the Chinese perspective, is one of glorious struggle over imperialist and capitalist oppressors. In contrast to Western militaries, the PLA is deeply politicized. It retains significant ties to Maoist and Marxist-Leninist political thought and has generations-deep connections with the CPC. While Western militaries are generally apolitical and are divorced from political parties, the PLA is officially the armed wing of the CPC. 

Note. This is an explanation of naming and acronym conventions. The proper name for China’s military is the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. This organizational structure is comparable to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD); it does not refer exclusively to ground forces, as does the U.S. Army. The PLA’s land-based service is the People’s Liberation Army Army (PLAA), the naval branch is the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and the aerial branch is called the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The PLA’s strategic conventional and nuclear ballistic and cruise missile service is the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF). The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) is a new servicelevel organization that incorporates national-level cyber warfare, electronic warfare (EW), space, and other operational support elements under a single headquarters, and the People’s Liberation Army Joint Logistics Support Force (PLAJLSF) is a new service-level sustainment organization. 

1-11. Despite China’s gradual economic liberalization and movement toward a capitalist, free-market economy, the PLA ostensibly remains generally steadfast in its support of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist philosophy. Though the PLA long ago abandoned more extreme Maoist experiments such as “rankless” force structures and eliminating rank insignia, the idea of People’s War—an armed struggle of a population against a militarily superior adversary—still colors PLA thinking. This concept eventually took the form of People’s War under Modern Conditions, an adaptation of Chinese Communist populist warfare that accounts for modern military capabilities. This in turn evolved to People’s War in Conditions of Informationization in 2015. This evolution suggests that the PLA now sees itself as having acquired sufficient information capabilities to successfully employ them in a limited or regional military capacity. Marxist-Leninist and Maoist thinking still influence PLA operations all the way down to the tactical level, where a mix of autocratic statism and communal leadership are practiced even within small organizations. 

1-12. Chinese national political objectives can be broken into two basic categories: security and development. Security objectives include the protection of the CPC as China’s ruling party, the protection of Chinese sovereignty, protection of borders, internal security, and nuclear deterrence. Development objectives include the protection of Chinese economic interests at home and abroad, ensuring freedom of navigation for Chinese goods, procuring important commodities such as energy and raw materials, and establishing new export markets for Chinese goods. As China has transitioned from a closed, unstable, post-revolutionary internal political environment to a more open and stable one, strategic priorities have gradually shifted from security to development. 

1-13. Today, with the primacy of the CPC virtually assured and few internal security threats, the People’s Armed Police (PAP) has taken over much of the internal security mission, while the PLA focuses primarily on development-related objectives. The coordination of military modernization with economic development is a basic tenet of Chinese national strategy, resulting in significant annual defense budget increases for the past two decades. This principle is now manifest in its Military-Civil Fusion program, which seeks greater cooperation between military and civilian elements in achieving shared objectives. An important objective of Military-Civil Fusion is leveraging civilian assets and capabilities as a cost-efficient method of managing limited military resources. Military-Civil Fusion can be thought of as an extension of People’s War, seeking to make best use of civilian assets and natural resources to underpin the growth and modernization of the PLA. 

1-14. The ongoing Chinese movement toward development objectives requires a significant enhancement of PLA capabilities. Throughout much of its history, including its active conflicts in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1979), the PLA had little to no expeditionary capability, minimal mechanization, low-technology systems, and a severe lack of military professionalism. Objectives that support development, however, generally require meaningful force projection capabilities: a blue-water navy, a modern air force, long-range targeting and strike capabilities, enhanced long-range air and sea strategic lift capabilities, and a well-trained, well-equipped, professional ground force. Due to one of the largest and longest economic growth cycles in history, China was able to fund the reform and development of the PLA, modernizing it over the last three decades from a force of poorly armed and poorly trained conscripts into a viable modern military.


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