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China’s 12th Five Year Plan and its Military

Bijoy Das was Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • March 25, 2011

    The 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) approved by China’s National People’s Congress on March 14, 2011 has effectively tied up the PLA’s defence modernisation with overall national growth. Higher goals such as the scientific development of the military to meet the needs of the new century and accordingly usher in steady but stable reforms in defence and the military have also been kept on track. A reading of China’s 12th FYP (2011-2015) reveals three major domains of the PLA in which the plan will take effect: the military domain, the organisational and management arena, and the ideological base.1

    The policy direction of the 12th FYP in the core military domain continues to be the modernisation of the Chinese military on the basis of science and technology. China is aiming to transform the PLA’s combat effectiveness and its growth through revolutionisation, modernisation and regularisation. The concrete areas where these changes will take effect are:

    1. Improving combat effectiveness on the basis of better information systems is the basic focus area. The larger goal is to improve the capability of accomplishing diversified military tasks under the current doctrine of winning local wars under conditions of informatisation (LWUCI).
    2. Military training is another area in which the Chinese are planning to effect some transformation. Keeping in mind the advanced parameters of LWUCI, the plan wants acceleration of the nurturing of a new generation of high quality military personnel.
    3. Strengthening R&D in weapons and equipment has also received high priority mention in the 12th FYP. This has to be viewed in the context of China’s efforts towards modernisation and indigenisation of its defence and ordnance industry.
    4. Acceleration of the development of an overall modern logistics system for the PLA, which will entail increased use of computers, information technology, civilian involvement and outsourcing in the PLA supply chain.
    5. Development of China’s reserve forces and enhancing their capabilities for restoring normalcy during exigencies and terrorist campaigns.

    On the organisational structure and management of the PLA, the 12th FYP mentions a number of measures and changes that are necessary to realise the goals mentioned above. These measures are:

    1. Completing the development of the PLA joint warfare command structure.
    2. Further refining the leadership management system.
    3. Encouraging innovation in military theory, military technology, military organisation and military administration.
    4. Administering the military according to the rule of law.
    5. Pushing ahead with the scientific development and management of the PLA and the Chinese defence establishment.
    6. Diversification of military capabilities.

    At the ideological level, the 12th FYP has stuck to the basic principles of Mao Zedong’s Military Thought, Deng Xiaoping’s Thoughts on Developing the Military in the New Era and Jiang Zemin’s Thoughts on Developing China’s Defence and Military. It has reaffirmed the absolute control of the Chinese Communist Party over the PLA for which “active propaganda work” has been planned. Besides these basic tenets, the other plans mentioned in the 12th FYP for the ideological and political development of the PLA are:

    1. Nurturing the core values and ethics of the soldier, like service to the people and military professionalisation.
    2. Consolidation of military-civilian unity.

    If the above plans are read against the backdrop of developments which are already underway in China and in the PLA, they may be of interest to India. One such development is the allocation of US $ 91.43 billion (601.156 billion Yuan) for the 2011 Chinese defence budget.2 The 12.7 per cent increase in allocation is expected to be spent mostly on defence modernisation, operations against conventional and non-conventional threats and better emoluments for the soldiers.3 Another aspect is the direction that the PLA has been taking during the 11th FYP (2006-2010), including diversification of military capability, outsourcing of non-core logistic functions, better emoluments, modernisation of military hardware, growth of domestic defence industry, nurturing ethics and values among soldiers and reforming the reserve forces.4

    The measures outlined in China’s 12th FYP for its defence and military have the following implications for India: -

    1. The focus on development and growth of the military and tying it to overall economic growth indicates that China does not expect any serious military conflict between 2011 and 2015.
    2. However, its focus on development through information systems also means that information and cyber warfare may become China’s modus operandi. Thus, increased but more sophisticated Information Warfare operations may be expected, along with efforts to strengthen China’s networks and information databases.
    3. China’s plan to put in place a joint warfare command structure during the 12th FYP also reveals its commitment to planning and executing joint operations in future battles and operations.
    4. The focus on transformational training may bring about a more professional and capable Chinese soldier, both during times of cooperation and tension. Similarly, encouraging innovation in training and organisational matters also indicates the Chinese desire for a better force with scientific management.
    5. Increased focus on defence modernisation means development, procurement and induction of more state-of-the-art weapons and equipment suiting China’s needs. Efforts towards indigenisation of China’s defence/ordnance industries and the increased role of civilian experts in the defence science and technology industries mean the production of more and more patented Chinese weapons and systems. This again may result in an inflow of more Chinese small arms and gadgets in the world arms market.
    6. Better emoluments are also an attempt to attract better manpower to the PLA. An educated and technically efficient workforce is basic to China’s vision of transforming the quality of PLA. It will also mean better PLA capability at the level of field units and lower formations.
    7. The mention about refining the leadership management structure indicates that irregularities exist in the top echelons of the PLA. Hence, the Chinese political leadership may be inclined to regularise the same.
    8. Consolidation of the military-civilian unity may mean that the PLA wants to reap the optimum benefits of civilian support services and technical expertise while improving its image among the population at the same time.
    9. Transforming the logistics of the PLA through the participation of civilian contractors and experts is also an attempt by Chinese authorities to open the sizeable market of defence procurement to a domestic economy which might begin to slow down in the near future. In essence it is an effort to cut down the PLA flab and boost the domestic economy at the same time.
    10. Efforts to reform the Reserve Forces also underline Chinese plans to better deal with civil unrest, secessionism, terrorism and disaster management.
    11. Finally, the basic equation between the Party and PLA will remain unchanged. Further, the Party’s control over the PLA can be expected to cover more areas, if possible, in the near term.