The General Staff Department (GSD) is the military department of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the military command headquarters of the PLA. It is responsible for war planning, operations, intelligence, recruitment, mobilisation, and training. The GSD serves concurrently as the headquarters for the PLA ground forces, since there is no dedicated “Army headquarters”. It also oversees the operations of other two service branches – Navy and Air Force. The GSD ranks the first among the four general headquarters in PLA’s protocol.
According to the China’s National Defence in 2006 White Paper issued by the PRC, “the General Staff Headquarters organises and directs the development of China's armed forces, and organises and commands their military operations. Under it are departments in charge of operations, intelligence, communications, military training and arms, adjutant and force structure, mobilization, electronic countermeasures, army aviation, foreign affairs, etc. Its main functions and powers are to put forward proposals on major issues of military building and operations, organize and exercise strategic command, formulate programs, rules and regulations for military work, and organize and direct war preparations, as well as military training and mobilisation”.
The GSD is headed by the Chief of the General Staff (CGS). He is assisted by the Executive Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff (EDCGS), three Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff (DCGS), and three CGS Assistants. The EDCGS, DCGS and CGS Assistants share the responsibility of overseeing operations, training, intelligence, equipment, discipline, mobilisation, and reserve forces, foreign relations, etc. Normally these positions include one person with background in the Air Force, one with background in the Navy, and one with background in the Second Artillery Corps to assist the liaisons with these service branches.
The current CGS is General CHEN Bingde (陈炳德), who was appointed the position in 2007. However, in the Party system, the former CGS and current Minister of National Defence, General LIANG Guanglie (梁光烈), has retained the position of the Party secretary of the GSD, while Chen is only the first deputy secretary. The 4th most senior uniformed officer in the PLA, Chen is also a member of the CMC and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s central committee.
Structure and Organisation
The GSD consists of several functional departments (known as second-level department), which are further subdivided into bureaus.
General Office (办公厅)
The General Office serves as the administrative headquarters to support the top leadership of the GSD, processing all GSD communications and documents, coordinating meetings, conveying orders to subordinate organs, and liasing with the other three PLA general departments – Political, Logistics, and Equipment. The General Office is headed by a Director and a Deputy Director.
Operations Department (作战部)
The Operations Department, also known as the 1st GSD Department (总参一部) in its codename, is the central command and control organ of the PLA for issuing orders and commanding forces nation-wide in both peacetime and wartime. It is responsible for drawing up operational plans, issuing orders to lower units and receiving reports and intelligence from them, and coordinating different service branches in joint operations. It also serves as the operational link between the warfighting commanders and the PLA and CCP leaderships. The Operations Department is a truly ‘joint’ command headquarters in that it is manned by personnel from all service branches of the PLA: ground forces, Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery Corps.
The Operations Department mans and operates the PLA’s national command and control centre located in Xishan (西山) area of western suburb of Beijing. The centre functions as the C3I nerve centre for all PLA units 24 hours a day, similar in nature to the Pentagon’s National Military Command Centre. During the rescue and relief operation in the aftermath of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the centre served as the command and control centre for all PLA units involved in the operation. According to a Chinese media report, the centre was informed about the earthquake 12 minutes after it occurred and the first order to the operational units was issued from the centre in 2 minutes.
The department is headed by a Director and five Deputy Directors (including a Navy officer and an Air Force officer). Its subordinate organs of the Operations Department include:
Political Department (政治部)
Aviation Control Bureau (空管局)
Border Defence Bureau (边防局)
Air Force Operations Bureau (空军作战局)
Navy Operations Bureau (海军作战局)
Survey and Cartography Bureau (测绘局)
Meteorological and Hydrological Bureau (气象水文局)
Forces Readiness and Development Bureau (战备建设局)
Joint Operations Command Bureau (联合作战指挥局)
Campaign Training Bureau (战役培训局)
Intelligence Department (情报部)
The Intelligence Department, also known as the 2nd GSD Department (总参二部) in its code name, is responsible for the collection and analysis of military and political intelligence at the strategic-level by means of human intelligence. The department monitors the activities of foreign military, especially those of the neighbouring countries and the U.S. troops stationed in Asia, and updates the Chinese leaders on latest developments on a daily basis. It is also responsible for counterintelligence within the PLA, dispatching military attaché to foreign countries, and overseeing the operations of the intelligence departments in military regions and service branches. Many compares this department with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
The department is headed by a Director, a Political Commissar, and two Deputy Directors. The main functional organs within the 2nd Department include a number of bureaus responsible for intelligence collection and analysis. Known organs include:
Political Department (政治部)
Confidential Bureau (机要局)
Comprehensive Bureau (综合局)
Confidential File Bureau (保密档案局)
1st Bureau (一局) – Military Intelligence Bureau (军事情报局)
2nd Bureau (二局) – Tactical Reconnaissance Bureau (战术情报局)
3rd Bureau (三局) – Military Attaché Bureau (武官局)
4th Bureau (四局) – Intelligence analysis for Russia, former Soviet republics, and other Eastern European countries
5th Bureau (五局) – Intelligence analysis for U.S. and Western European countries
6th Bureau (六局) – Intelligence analysis for neighbouring Asian countries
7th Bureau (七局) – Technology and Equipment Bureau (科技装备局)
Arms Control Bureau (军备控制局)
Space Reconnaissance Bureau (航天侦察局)
Computer Institute (计算机所)
PLA College of International Relations (解放军国际关系学院)
China International Institute for Strategic Studies (CIISS) (中国国际战略研究学会)
Additionally, the 2nd Department is also responsible for organising and coordinating PLA’s involvement in the U.N. peacekeeping missions. When dealing with these matters, the department uses the name of “the Ministry of National Defence Peacekeeping Office” (国防部维和办公室) in public.
Technical Department (技术部)
The Technical Department is responsible for signal intelligence (SIGINT) operations, including the interception, processing, and dissemination of communications transmissions from foreign entities. As a collateral mission, it also monitors internal PLA communications as well as civilian international communications to and from China. The department is also known as the 3rd GSD Department (总参三部) in its code name, or 61195 Unit in its military unit cover designator. It is widely regarded as the PRC equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.