Reality check of PLA’s ‘powerful army’ claim

The Chinese have learned the worst from the best. Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) English language media, takes direct inspiration from Joseph Goebbels, the World War II-era Nazi party propaganda chief. A much-publicised speech of his that went, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”, forms the mantra for Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times and his political master Xi Jinping. Though the target seems to be the English speaking world, the CCP has managed to fool only its citizens, as the chinks in their stories keep getting exposed.

The narrative is simple: The PLA is on its way to becoming one of the most powerful armies in the world. Hundreds of images, of serious looking soldiers with seemingly sophisticated rifles, load-carrying drones and what look like exoskeleton suits, have been plastered all over the Internet including various social media platforms. Chinese state-affiliated media such as CCTV and CGTN show clips of PLA soldiers using hi-tech communication equipment, drone swarm launchers and robots. All this is supplemented by a number of articles in global print and online news platforms, circulated, retweeted and posted by mesmerised fans of the Party across the globe. This adulation, obviously, is based on the supposed military and technological superiority of the Party and its likely intentions to use this power for good.

However, this Iron Curtain of deception now lies in tatters in the recent confrontation with India. Though Global Times, CCTV and CGTN have persisted with the illusion that the PLA is a technologically superior army and is on its way to operationalising its “warfare under informationised conditions”, the reality is far more bland and mundane. Not only is China unable to use any of its much touted technological advantages against India in the high Himalayas, it has also failed to equip its soldiers with any worthwhile innovative solutions to the harsh conditions prevailing in the Tibetan plateau.

Take a recent, almost comical report of 23 January 2021 by the Global Times regarding discussions over the contents of haversack carried by a PLA soldier in the Xinjiang Military District, one of the two facing India in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Using two fictional soldiers (the soldiers used in most of Global Times’ propaganda pieces are fictional, given the almost vacuum-sealed environment of the PLA with respect to discussions and debate), the report tries to bring out the attention to detail of the PLA hierarchy to the needs of its soldiers but ends up mocking and in the process, highlighting the plebeian mindset of the much-hyped generals and their soldiers.

The hypothetical squabbles over carrying a toothbrush or towel and finally ending up with a haversack 500gms lighter to accommodate extra “bullets” is plain humorous. The difference between an “informationised” army and its manifestation on the ground cannot be starker. The PLA was tasked to fight and win “informationised local wars” when the Big Bang reforms and restructuring were announced by the Premier. But it seems that the forces on ground have misunderstood this for “Misinformation and Propaganda” where the whole might is being applied.

Besides, there are number of recent pictures on the world wide web which show PLA soldiers ferrying loads in the Greater Tibet region using four-legged ground based ‘drones’, commonly known as mules, and porters. Contrast this with the massive fanfare with which load-carrying drones were heralded in the digital domain. An article in the Global Times dated 11 September 2020 pointed at the ‘revolutionary’ way in which UAVs will sidestep the difficulties of an extended and often, precarious logistics chain. The reality on the ground paints an altogether different picture. Neither is the Chinese soldier able to cater for any major logistics arrangements in the Tibet Military District nor are the drones able to ferry loads including the advertised hot food, medicines and supplies to any outpost on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Another article by the same Global Times showcased the thermal shelters built by the PLA for its troops which included two variants – wood-fired and gas-heated.

However, in none of the subsequent photographs of PLA troops on the front with India, one has been able to find these overhyped luxury accommodations anywhere, strengthening the suspicion of many that these tents and hostels are just for show, like tableaus paraded by China using dummy equipment every year.

It is time that the world sees through Chinese deception and quash its self-proclaimed status of a global power once and for all. Pushing and testing the endurance and patience limits of major democracies all over the world, China is caught in its own web of self-deception, which is going to break and untangle very soon.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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