China's Military Turns 80 With Flourish

Soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing i i

Soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing after a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the China's People's Liberation Army, Aug. 1, 2007. Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing after a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the China's People's Liberation Army, Aug. 1, 2007.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

China marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of its military with fanfare and a public-relations blitz. To show that its military modernization drive is transparent, foreign journalists were invited to a People's Liberation Army base.

Infantry Brigade 196 is one of the People's Liberation Army units charged with defending of China's capital. The country's growing defense budget has helped build new barracks and training facilities for the brigade's 3,500 troops.

China's published military budget for this year is almost $45 billion, up nearly 18 percent over last year. That's the biggest defense budget in Asia, but it's less than 10 percent of published figures for the U.S military budget.

The PLA is the world's largest army, with 2.3 million members, and China points out that it spends about 1/47th of what the U.S. spends on each soldier.

In recent years, China has taken a number of moves to make the PLA more professional. It has built its own ROTC program to recruit better educated officers. It ordered the PLA to divest its extensive business holdings. And it has also reduced the number of political indoctrination classes.

But a main theme of the anniversary is that the ruling communist party will not allow the PLA to become too depoliticized. The party, after all, founded the PLA amid civil war in 1927.

And Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan wrote in a recent article that suggestions that the government take over the PLA from the party are tantamount to subversion.

New Beijing Exhibit Promotes China's Army

A new Chinese fighter-bomber is among the equipment on display at Beijing's Military Museum. i i

A new Chinese fighter-bomber is among the equipment on display at Beijing's Military Museum. Anthony Kuhn, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anthony Kuhn, NPR
A new Chinese fighter-bomber is among the equipment on display at Beijing's Military Museum.

A new Chinese fighter-bomber is among the equipment on display at Beijing's Military Museum.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR

The rapidly modernizing People's Liberation Army in China has put itself on display. A new exhibit at Beijing's Military Musem features high-tech weaponry, a heavy emphasis on outer space and young army women in uniform who pose with visitors.

The exhibit, which is drawing 50,000 visitors a day, marks next week's 80th anniversary of the army's founding.

Videos of new submarines and missiles highlight the Chinese military's shifting emphasis from fighting defensive wars on its own turf to projecting power beyond its borders.

The exhibit also reveals that the army sees the break-up of the country as a major security threat, implying that the Tiananmen Square massacre was justified.

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