The People’s Liberation Army of China: Lessons of Multiple Impact on National Advancement

For 94 years, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been a strategic and vital instrument in helping China’s government advance its policies and programmes to achieve national developmental goals. Marking its 94th anniversary on 1st August this year brings into focus the role that this military organisation has played in the unprecedented development of China in the last century.

From helping Chairman Mao establish the communist state almost a century ago to the current stabilization efforts in the controversial South China Sea, the former Red Army has grown over the decades into a globally recognized dominant force that is key to the establishment and growth of modern PRC.

The Communist Party of China today continues to utilize the PLA to consolidate its ruling status, protecting China’s sovereignty and advancing the country’s interests, whilst strategically subjugating military power under civil control to ensure that at all times it remains under the regulation of the Communist Party of China and the government.

The capability to successfully manage this symbiotic relationship between the Party/ government and PLA for almost a century, without any hint of insurrection is a great lesson that Nigeria and other African countries, threatened intermittently by instability and military coups, should learn from.

Another area where Nigeria and other African countries can learn from The PLA in this special 94th anniversary is the high level of passion, bonding, and emotions the PLA evokes from the populace. Unlike most climes in Africa, the PLA is never seen as an “army of occupation.” From the beginning, one of the PLA’s prime objectives has been to legitimize itself to China’s general population. To amass popular support, the PLA uses a multifaceted strategy, but perhaps the most important part of this strategy is the PLA’s production of cultural products, including but not limited to books, music, films, and toys. In many cases, the PLA collaborates directly with the commercial market, and such products are often designed to appeal to China’s youth.

The PLA has been managing its very own film studio for over half a century. Originally dubbed the Liberation Army Film Studio, it was later renamed to the August First Film Studio, presumably to celebrate the date of its founding, August 1st, 1952. The studio exists primarily to create media on behalf of the PLA, and it has been extremely prolific in this regard, having produced well over 2000 films since its creation (“August First Film Studio”). Some of its most notable works include The East is Red, a pre-Cultural Revolution musical film that celebrates the triumph of communism, The Hundred Regiments Offensive, a 2015 war movie detailing the CCP’s struggle against Japanese invaders, and 2017’s The Founding of an Army, a historical dramatization of the founding of the CCP, and of course, their army. These initiatives often rely on heavy government support to effectively reach their audiences.

Xi Jinping

With a total manpower of about two million soldiers, which is by far the largest army in the world, the PLA’s huge population also promotes abundant interactions and engagements with civilians’ daily life. First, a large number of civilians voluntarily enlist into the PLA. According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, every citizen of the PRC is obligated to perform military service. However, that has not been the case since 1949 because the PLA has been able to recruit enough numbers voluntarily. The ease and fluidity with which citizens can perform the two years of military service has clearly strengthened the PRC, with most citizens taking personal ownership and greater interest in the system

Another interaction between the PLA and civilians is military training in public schools, including middle school, high school and colleges. In China, military training is conducted based on laws. Military training is believed to be the basic form of national defense education for students. Its goal is to improve students’ political realization, nationalistic characteristics, collectivistic spirit, perseverance, and discipline. As the PLA operatives interact massively with citizens in public schools, greater affinity is established.

Another touchpoint in this deliberate bonding policy is the irreplaceable workforce that the PLA provides in national disaster management. According to National Earthquake Emergency Plan, the local PLA is the first line of response to all forms of emergencies and natural disasters like earthquakes, along with local government and other related organizations. The PLA often shows up favorably in news for fighting against floods and earthquakes, among other emergencies and occurrences of natural disasters.

The PLA has been the backbone of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The essence and value of any political party are measured by its ability to aggregate peoples’ interests, for good governance. Only then can such a party stand the test of time and history because of its positive impact on the people and society.

The Communist Party of China (CPC), one of the oldest but impactful political parties in the world is unique for its history, governance, and impact. The Pew Research Center, in a recent survey, declared that China tops the 2019 global ranking in terms of the level of satisfaction with government performance. It shows over 86% of the Chinese people surveyed expressing satisfaction, far above the global average of 47 percent. This acceptance rate is due to the CPC’s history emanating from the people, hence the symbiotic relationship between the two.

An historic event that provided the needed platform for the peoples’ collective resolve was the “Long March” of 1934-1946, forged with the lives and blood of the Chinese Communists and Red Army soldiers now The People’s Liberation Army. Because the spirit of the Long March represented a willingness to sacrifice everything to save the country and the people, it meant putting the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and nation above all else. That is the spirit that became ingrained in the CPC and infused deep into the veins and soul of the PLA as well as the Chinese nation. In their belief that every nation has its Long March, the current struggles and efforts are considered the new Long March which is a necessity to carry on in realizing their dream of greater advancement.

Ultimately, the Long March succeeded because the CPC and the Army stood together with the people, went through ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ with the people, hence ‘the People” became the source of strength of CPC and the PLA.

This development has allowed Chinese socialism to constantly advance many years after the collapse of socialism in Europe. This also explains why the CPC has always won the peoples’ support, the loyalty of the PLA, and the trust and confidence of various stakeholders. The people, The PLA, the government and the CPC are therefore inseparable. While the CPC remains the engine and driving force, the PLA and the people are the vehicle by which the policies are carried out. The CPC and its leaders therefore have no option but to be people focused in governance.

Even with the superb performance of the PLA over the years, Chinese authorities are not relenting in pushing for another level. On the eve of China’s Army Day last Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked the military to make resolute efforts to overtake the US and become the world’s best army by 2027. That is just six years away!

A key conclave of the Communist Party of China (CPC) headed by the 68-year-old Xi Jinping himself finalised plans last year to build a fully modern military at par with that of the US by 2027.

The year 2027 will mark the centennial of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and China’s goal is to build a much stronger military in alignment with other national objectives and future national defence needs. That much was articulated at the Plenary session of the CPC held in October last year.

Addressing a group study session of the CPC Political Bureau on Saturday, Xi — who heads the CPC and the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) — called for resolute will and determination to work hard to achieve the goals set for the PLA centenary to be celebrated in 2027.

The CMC is the overall high command of the Chinese military. Reviewing the history of the CPC, which celebrated its centenary on July 1 this year, Xi stressed that “the party commands the gun”, thus upholding the absolute leadership of the party over the armed forces. Xi has also been emphasising repeatedly, since he took over the leadership of the CPC in 2012, that the PLA must function under the party leadership.

According to the 14th Five-Year Plan which is being implemented from this year towards the PLA’s 100th anniversary, the centennial goal of military development would be pursued vigorously.

China has been steadily committed to the pursuit of global peace and development through various modes of international cooperation. But it also exemplifies the fact that a stronger military is a sine qua non for greater peace and progress in society.

Besides laying great stress on rapid modernization of the military through heavy defence budgets, which amounted to USD 200 billion this year, there are numerous military exercises in real battle conditions lined up to ensure that in any battle condition, the PLA will always win.

Categories: Features

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