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Economic Roles of the People's Liberation Army

The PLA played a role in economic development practically from its inception. Beginning in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the party was headquartered in Yan'an, the Red Army raised its own food. After 1949 the PLA became involved in economic reconstruction tasks--building railroads and factories, reclaiming wasteland, digging irrigation canals, establishing state farms, and participating in disaster relief operations. The PLA accepted its role as a force in economic construction and devoted segments of its structure, such as the Engineering Corps, Railway Engineering Corps, Capital Construction Engineering Corps, Signal Corps, and Production and Construction Corps, to building up the national infrastructure. However, PLA regional- and main-force units played a much smaller role in aiding the civilian economy.

This pattern continued into the 1980s. The PLA remained self-sufficient in food, participated in selective infrastructure development projects, and aided in disaster relief. From 1981 to 1985, the PLA contributed 110 million workdays to 44,500 construction projects, including the diversion of river water from the Luan He to Tianjin, construction of the Shengli oilfield in Shandong Province and the Huolinhe open-cut coal mine in Shaanxi Province, expansion of Zhanjiang port in Guangdong Province, and afforestation work involving the planting of 290 million trees.

The PLA contributed to economic development in two additional ways. First, in November 1984 the government decided to transfer some military facilities to civilian control or joint militarycivilian use. These facilities included airfields, ports, docks, railroads, depots and warehouses, and recreational areas. The devolution of these facilities to civilian control helped to alleviate problems that plagued the civilian economy. Second, beginning in the late 1970s, the PLA operated a large-scale program of dual-use training, whereby PLA personnel learned skills useful to the growing economy. Under this program, officers and soldiers received military training and training in specialized skills, such as livestock breeding, cultivation, processing, construction, machine maintenance, repair of domestic appliances, motor vehicle repair, and driving. In 1986 the PLA trained more than 650,000 soldiers in 25,000 training courses at over 6,000 training centers. In early 1987 surveys indicated that over 70 percent of demobilized PLA personnel left the armed forces with skills they could use as civilians.

Data as of July 1987