9 - Military Modernization and Party Politics  pp. 225-254


By Shiping Zheng

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MILITARY modernization was one of the fundamental issues during the Deng Xiaoping era. Deng first intended to tackle the problems in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1975 when he returned from disgrace and assumed the posts of vice chairman of the Party Central Military Commission (CMC) and chief of the PLA General Staff. In January 1975, Deng pointed to two major problems in the army: factionalism and lack of discipline. He concluded that the PLA did not “act like an army.” Deng's efforts to rectify the army were soon aborted when he was purged for the second time in April 1976. After he returned to power in 1977, Deng had placed army rectification high on his agenda. In a speech to the Party CMC in August 1977, Deng, in his resumed official capacity as the new vice chairman of the Party CMC, pointed out: “Now we simply have to admit that by international standards, our science and technology have a long way to go. We must also admit that our army is not sufficiently capable of conducting modern warfare, and that although it is numerically strong, it is of relatively poor quality.” Deng's worries were mostly confirmed by the PLA's poor performance in the 1979 “punitive war” against Vietnam. The Vietnam War was for Deng what the Korean War was for Mao.

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