The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party, not the army of the People’s Republic. Everything from national strategy to managing unrest to leadership succession relies on how the PLA and party interact. Regardless whether one believes party politics are personal or institutional, this places the PLA squarely at the center of Chinese politics. Mao Zedong once cautioned against misunderstanding the PLA as just a war- fighting force, and the PLA’s missions and policy roles should disabuse contemporary observers from the same mistake. The tumult of today’s domestic Chinese politics and the stakes created by China’s international assertiveness invite a reappraisal of the party-army relationship.Even if the answers cannot be definitive, opening the door to questions on this relationship encourages a different perspective on the PLA, the party, and China’s future.
Peter Mattis is a University of Washington alumnus (JSIS ‘05) and a Fellow in the China Program at The Jamestown Foundation. He previously served as editor of the foundation’s China Brief, a biweekly electronic journal on greater China, from 2011 to 2013. Prior to joining Jamestown, Mr. Mattis worked as an international a airs analyst for the U.S. Government and as a research associate at the National Bureau of Asian Re- search. His writing has appeared in Studies in Intelligence, the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, The National Interest, and China Brief among many others. He also is the author of Analyzing the Chinese Military: A Review Essay and Resource Guide on the People’s Liberation Army (2015) which can be found online here: