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Learning As Much As You Want About The Chinese Military

April 19, 2014

Chinese political opera

With a full spectrum rivalry simmering between the US and China, staying informed on the activities of either side is important.

Especially when it comes to the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army.

At this point, China is still a distant second to the US in a lot of relevant categories, but it’s closing the gap little by little.

So it’s not surprising that multiple think tanks, websites, and certain departments of the US military keep a watchful eye on the PLA. The Pentagon, for example, publishes a yearly report on its closest “peer competitor” and makes this available to the public.

So does the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which focuses on the PLA Navy instead. The US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office also scrutinizes the PLA, along with other large militaries, and publishes its findings via individual reports and a monthly supplement. The Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (ASSI) has its own robust China-specific publications. Even the RAND Corporation’s original research on China and the PLA is breathtaking and accessible.

On the Chinese side, the Ministry of National Defense maintains an English-language site to share press releases and relevant documents. Although its content may be dismissed as propaganda, without critical access to senior Chinese leaders it’s the layman’s best venue for an “official source.”

Another official source is the PLA’s own China Military Online, which features a lot of the same news as the Ministry of National Defense. China Military Online is a a veritable trove for various PLA related minutiae. The PLA’s National Defense University offers the same, albeit in a terrible layout.

Chinese state-owned news agencies like Xinhua, Global Times, and People’s Daily have sections dedicated to the PLA’s activities.

For impartial open-sources, the options are varied and exciting. Real time blogs like China-defence have a decade’s worth of photos, texts, and leaks that cover the PLA’s breakthroughs. Various blogs and websites maintained by enthusiasts, including this one, are excellent platforms for disseminating the latest on the PLA.

Bon Appetit

For in depth facts, the think tank Federation of American Scientists (FAS) maintains a database on PLA legacy weapon systems perfect for building a personal knowledge base.‘s own China section is helpful too.

Another think tank, Air Power Australia, have dossiers on the PLA Air Force and anti-air assets. For hard data on the PLA’s long-range arsenal and nuclear capabilities Missile Threat and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) are musts.

Reuters, on the other hand, released a sweeping miniseries on the PLA’s transformation in recent years. Its Connected China app is an equally useful tool for learning about China’s political elite.

Staying up-to-date means having no shortage of options. For a macro-view on China there’s the all English Sino Daily news site,The Diplomat, and the BBC.

Subscribtion-based IHS Jane’s naturally ranks as the most comprehensive for worldwide military coverage, including China. Other defense sector websites have good information on PLA weapon systems like Kable Intelligence Ltd’s Army Technology, Naval Technology, and Air Force Technology.

For hard numbers and military budgets, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Global Firepower Index complement each other.

Finally, online fora, discussion boards, and video streaming sites spread information at an alarming pace. There is no shortage of books out there.

Of course, facts that are beyond public access and concealed behind propaganda remain elusive. But thanks to Internet transparency, keeping abreast of  the changes sweeping the PLA is now a convenience rather than an ordeal.

For best results, just Google, bookmark, and repeat.

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