People's Liberation Army II
After the founding of the PRC, the PLA started to play a role in China's foreign policy by actively engaging in a number of conflicts. The Army fought the American troops in Korea in 1950-1953 and against India in 1963 (unresolved until the present day), it clashed with former ally the Soviet Union along the shared Northeastern border in 1969, battled with South-Vietnamese troops in the South China Sea in 1974, marched against Vietnam in 1979, and came into conflict with a number of countries over the Spratly Islands since the mid-1980s. The PLA supported North-Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and deployed advisers and troops against American forces in Southeast Asia.
Over the past six decades, the PLA has worked towards bringing Taiwan back into the fold. During the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1954-1955, and again in 1958, the Army bombarded the offshore islands of Quemoy (Jinmen) and Matzu (Mazu). In the 1980s, live ammunition was traded in for shells filled with propaganda materials, which the Taiwanese reciprocated in kind. In 1995-1996, the PLA was involved in naval and missile exercises off the coast of Taiwan in an attempt to influence the presidential elections then taking place in Taiwan. The peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue has been high on the agenda of the successive generations of military and civilian PRC-leaders, including Hua Guofeng.
Despite these activities, the PLA has always devoted its best energies to internal affairs. In the military sense, it pacified the country in the early 1950s, defeating Nationalist remnant troops and local militias. The Army occupied Hainan Island, participated in political campaigns to wipe out the landlord class and suppress counter-revolutionaries, and occupied Tibet. During the Great Leap Forward, the Army was used to prevent peasants from fleeing rural areas stricken by famine, and in the early 1960s, the military took over many government and State-functions.
Aside from its military and political functions, the PLA has been used as an economic resource as well. During the revolutionary war, wherever soldiers went, they participated in food production to supplement reserves in the area and lighten the burden on the local population. After the founding of the PRC, the PLA's domestic economic role was enlarged. The huge number of demobilized soldiers, while retaining their military organization, was employed in civilian production, both in agriculture and in industry. The military moreover was involved in setting up state farms and massive land reclamation projects, in particular in the Northeast.
In the era of modernization, the role and position of the PLA in Chinese society has changed enormously. An Army career is no longer considered as one of the few available opportunities for social mobility: people rather try their luck as independent entrepreneurs. This has created problems for PLA-recruitment policies. On the other hand, the professionalization of the PLA-organization over the past three decades, now stressing arms over men, has made the Army rather reluctant to take in unskilled recruits from the countryside, preferring (urban) university graduates instead. Due to a reduction of the ranks (some 1.5-2 million in the last 15 years), a number of traditional PLA-functions has shifted to other organizations, in particular the People's Armed Police. This latter organization has become the first line of defense against civil unrest. In that role, it has faced a lot of action in the ever more frequent conflicts with disgruntled peasants --protesting expulsion from their farmland to make way for industrial and/or urban development--, workers --opposing their dismissal-- and pensioners --clamoring against the paucity of their pensions. The PAP, backed when necessary by the PLA, has taken on much of the grass-roots work; over the years, it has become involved in combatting the regular floods that wreak increasing havoc in the countryside. PAP units were also deployed to ensure security for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and other cities.
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