"China's Armed Forces Are the Biggest in the World."
Yes,but it depends on how you count. The PLA has the most people on its payroll -- 2.2 million active personnel (though between 1985 and 2005, it shrank by 1.7 million soldiers and is still shrinking today). That's still far more than the 1.4 million active service members in the U.S. military.
Then again, the United States also has more than 700,000 civilian Defense Department employees and significant uncounted numbers of contractors. (In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are roughly equal numbers of contractors and uniformed personnel -- about 250,000 contractors to 180,000 soldiers.) But in China, uniformed PLA soldiers carry out many of the same duties that contractors perform for the U.S. military.
Arguably, the more significant figure for comparison is defense spending. Here the PLA lags far behind the Pentagon. In 2009, the U.S. military spent $738 billion on defense and homeland security. Estimates for China's annual military budget vary considerably, ranging from $69.5 billion to $150 billion, but it's clear that U.S. military spending is still several times higher than China's, the world's second highest.
And the PLA's global range is much more limited. As of last June, the United States had 285,773 active-duty personnel deployed around the world. But China operates no overseas bases and has only a handful of PLA personnel stationed abroad in embassies, on fellowships, and in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
CHINA FOTO PRESS/GETTY IMAGES