China Leadership Monitor

Your Guess Is As Good As Mine: PLA Budgets, Proposals, and Discussions at the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress

Friday, July 30, 2004

For observers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) politics and civilian-military relations, annual sessions of China's parliament—the National People's Congress (NPC)—are interesting for three main reasons. First, the session reviews the government's annual budget, which includes official figures for defense spending. These figures, with significant caveats, indicate the pace and scope of military modernization—as well as the relative political weight of the PLA. Second, roughly one-tenth of all delegates to the NPC are active-duty military officers, and their discussions (often complaints) in plenary sessions are useful markers of intramilitary concerns. Third, the NPC often passes military-related regulations, which sometimes reveal institutional or doctrinal trends in the armed forces. From that perspective, the second session of the 10th NPC in March 2004 is notable for restoring double-digit increases in the defense budget and for giving new guidance on military modernization and management of the army. Also notable was the absence of any visible civil-military split like the "two centers" debate from the NPC in March 2003.