Paper Tiger?

Soldiers of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) march in formation during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

It is fashionable in the United States to overestimate the Chinese as an international aggressor. Since its involvement in Korea some seventy years ago, China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) has not acquitted itself particularly well:

  1. In 1962, there was a border dispute with India which did not involve air or naval forces, in which the three PLA regiments occupied an area in the Himalayas known as Aksai Chin.
  2. In 1967, China attempted to invade Sikkim, just east of Nepal, but were driven back by Indian troops.
  3. In 1979, China invaded North Viet Nam (which was allied with Russia) and lost heavily to battle-hardened Viet troops under Võ Nguyên Giáp.
  4. Recently, China has occupied various uninhabited rocks in the South China Sea, which are in danger of being inundated by tsunamis common in the area due to volcanic activity.

It has been much more common for the PLA to be involved in the suppression of minority populations in south and western China.

So although the PLA on paper is powerful, it has no real history of success in battle. Although I am not in favor of pooh-poohing them as a threat, I think we tend to go too far in the opposite direction.

I must admit, however, that the PLA wins hands down on the parade ground.