15:03 GMT04 December 2020
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    Personnel assigned to China’s navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force now combine to make up more than 50 percent of China’s total force, overtaking the size of the army for the first time in history, according to reports.

    The People's Liberation Army — the official name of China's armed forces — has completed a major part of its internal composition restructuring, Xinhua news agency reported Monday. The army is no longer the largest of the five Chinese military service branches, as the realities of 21st century conflict demand more than sheer size.

    As of 2013, China's armed forces had a total of 2.3 million servicemembers. According to the South China Morning Post, there are currently 2 million active servicemembers.

    Xinhua called the shrinking of the army "unprecedented."

    "The army now accounts for less than 50 percent of the total number of PLA troops; almost half of our non-combatant units have been made redundant, and the number of officers in the PLA has been reduced by 30 percent," South China Morning Post quoted the PLA as saying in Xinhua.

    The goal of the restructuring was for the military force to become more efficient and flexible in air, space and cyberspace domains. "In the old set-up, the PLA had too many officers. In this overhaul, all these officers must find new positions and adapt, or they will be made redundant," Shanghai-based analyst Ni Lexiong told the South China Morning Post.

    He said that the previous composition — with 50 percent or more of personnel allocated to winning the battle on the ground — was stuck in the past. "The Chinese military used to… operate following the model established in the Second World War," said Ni.

    Plans to reduce the army component to approximately 50 percent of its former size were announced in the official newspaper of the Chinese military in late 2017. At the time, PLA Daily reported that the military would aim to increase personnel in the PLA Navy and PLA Rocket Force as part of the restructuring. Before that, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a 300,000-person drawdown in the size of the army.

    As of 2013, China had a total of 2.3 million service members in its military. At that time, approximately 633,000 service members were part of the Chinese navy and air force in total.

    The PLA Army was founded in 1927, while the PLA Air Force and Navy were not established until 1949. The PLA Rocket Force, sometimes called the Second Artillery Corps, was formed in 1966. The PLA Strategic Support Force was created in 2015 as a cyber, space and electronic warfare service branch.

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