The China Quarterly

Doctrine, Training and Capabilities

From Continent to Periphery: PLA Doctrine, Strategy and Capabilities Towards 2000*

Paul H. B. Godwin

In the late spring of 1985, shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the former USSR, the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (CMC) directed a radical change in the armed forces′ training and preparation for war. The Chinese People′s Liberation Army (PLA-as all the military services and branches are collectively designated) was instructed that it was no longer necessary to prepare for an “early, major and nuclear war” with the Soviet Union. Henceforth, the PLA′s doctrine, strategy and operational concepts would be focused on preparing for the most probable form of future conflict: local, limited war (jubu zhanzheng) around China′s periphery.1 The decade following the CMC′s directive has seen the Chinese armed forces begin the transition towards a more modern, flexible military force as they′changed their organizational structure, command and control, and training to focus on possibly unexpected, potentially intensive military conflict along China′s borders and maritime territories. These changes paralleled the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which eliminated any significant military threat to China′s northern borders for at least another decade. Nevertheless, and even as Beijing′s security analysts were publicly acknowledging that China′s military security was more assured than it had been for the past 50 years, the defence expenditures of the People′s Republic entered a period of rapid growth that continues to this day.


* The views expressed in this essay are those of the author and are not to be construed as those of the Atlantic Council of the United States, the National War College, the National Defense University, or any other Agency of the United States Government.