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A Moment of Truth for the People’s Liberation Army

Mar 20 , 2015

The last three decades have been relatively easy for China’s defense planners. But its economy is stagnating and its security environment is deteriorating. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s military, will face some tough choices. Decades of double-digit budget increases have allowed it to concentrate on building what Beijing most desires: a strong, maritime-focused force. China now has the world’s most active precision-strike missile program, is acquiring submarines at a faster rate than any other navy, and is building a large surface navy.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and until very recently, China’s land borders appeared secure — to borrow a metaphor from U.S. history, its “frontier was closed.” With China’s explosive economic growth over the last few decades, it not only quickly became one of the most important maritime trading nations in the world, but could also shower largesse on the PLA (while China faces periodic bouts of domestic unrest, the PLA is no longer in charge of that mission). Until recently, the PLA had but one main requirement: build a military capable of protecting China’s regional maritime interests.

And so, almost every year for the last few decades, Beijing has announced double-digit increases to the PLA’s budget. This year is no different: On March 5, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced a 10.1 percent increase, to a total of roughly $141 billion.

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