BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday pledged to cut China’s 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army by 300,000 troops, amid rising manpower costs and technological capabilities that reduce the need for large numbers of personnel.
The announcement at the start of a massive parade in Beijing commemorating Japan’s World War II defeat 70 years ago brings the armed forces’ headcount down to about 2 million, still making it the world’s largest standing military.
Xi gave no specific reason for the reduction, but bracketed his announcement with assertions of the PLA’s mission to protect China and “uphold the sacred task of ensuring world peace.”
The announcement could be seen as an attempt to soften the impact of Thursday’s spectacle that saw 12,000 troops march through the center of the Chinese capital, accompanied by tanks, bomber aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
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The parade was largely shunned by Japan, the U.S. and other major democracies who have grown concerned about China’s increasingly aggressive moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Once known for its human wave tactics in conflicts such as the Korean War, the PLA is increasingly focused on high-tech weaponry and projecting power abroad through its navy and air force.
As an example, the latest version of the PLA’s mainstay bomber, the H-6K, requires just a three-person crew, half its former complement.
Despite its huge numbers, the PLA hasn’t fought in a major conflict since a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, although China has long been a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions and since 2008 has joined in multi-nation anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.