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China: Accomplishments and Prospects
Country Study > Chapter 14 > National Defense > Accomplishments and Prospects


Beginning in the late 1970s, China's military modernization program achieved success in increasing China's status as a regional power. The PLA disengaged itself from politics and concentrated its attention on military tasks. Reforms in organization, doctrine, education and training, and personnel practices brought the PLA much closer to its objective of molding a modern combat force capable of waging combined- arms warfare. Defense science and industry became more closely integrated with their civilian counterparts and began producing more civilian goods in addition to modernizing PLA weaponry with foreign technology. Nevertheless, PLA capabilities still lagged behind advanced world levels, and the presence of potent adversaries on China's borders meant that defense modernization would be a long-term program, probably lasting well into the next century.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the volume of information published on the Chinese military increased greatly. Ellis Joffe's The Chinese Army After Mao provides a good introduction to military modernization and changes in the PLA in the 1980s. The role of politics in PLA development is delineated in Harlan W. Jencks' From Muskets to Missiles; Harvey W. Nelsen's The Chinese Military System; and Monte R. Bullard's China's Political-Military Evolution. The Jencks and Nelsen books also contain valuable information on PLA organization and force structure in the early 1980s. The United States Defense Intelligence Agency's 1984 Handbook of the Chinese People's Liberation Army is another good source on PLA organization, equipment, and tactics. Various aspects of military reforms in defense policy, doctrine, training and education, defense industry, weapons modernization, and force structure are dealt with in The Chinese Defense Establishment, edited by Paul H.B. Godwin; Chinese Defence Policy, edited by Gerald Segal and William T. Tow; and China's Military Reforms, edited by Charles D. Lovejoy and Bruce W. Watson. These books also deal with the international implications of Chinese military power. China's involvement in foreign conflicts is covered in Segal's Defending China. Chinese military assistance and arms sales are treated in China and the Arms Trade by Anne Gilks and Segal. China as a Maritime Power by David G. Muller, and Eighth Voyage of the Dragon by Bruce Swanson provide good overviews of the PLA Navy.

Articles on the Chinese military appear in the general, scholarly, and military periodical literature. Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek offer the most articles among weekly news publications. China Quarterly, Asian Survey, and Problems of Communism feature occasional articles on the PLA. Useful military publications include Jane's Defence Weekly, Asian Defence Journal, International Defense Review, Aviation Week and Space Technology, and Flight International. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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