Ground force officers run China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). About 70 percent of PLA soldiers serve in the PLA Army (PLAA), and ground officers occupy almost all senior positions on the Central Military Commission (CMC) and in China’s new theater commands. The PLA’s history, traditions, and organizational culture are all built upon the PLAA role in bringing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to power. Until the establishment of a separate army headquarters in January 2016, the PLA’s major organizations (the general departments) existed primarily to serve the needs of the army. Pictures of the CMC staff or of visiting Chinese National Defense University delegations show only a smattering of navy white and air force blue uniforms in a sea of army green.
Despite this traditional dominance, the PLAA has lost status, budget share, and end strength relative to the other services in recent years. Since 2004, Chinese defense white papers have emphasized the need for increased funding for the navy, air force, and Second Artillery (which was elevated in status and renamed the Rocket Force in January 2016). “Optimizing the composition of the services and arms of the PLA” has meant reductions in “technologically backward” PLAA units and personnel increases for the other services. Most of the 300,000 troops that will be cut from the PLA will come from army ranks. Moreover, the army is widely perceived as the likely loser in current PLA organizational reforms. Elimination of the general departments and establishment of a new army commander and headquarters reduced the army to bureaucratic equality with the other services. The PLAA also lost direct control of space and cyber units, which were transferred to the new Strategic Support Force.