From my perspective, China has a very different view of the term “special forces” compare to the US. They have many special forces which have different specialization and combat role. They also have a lot of high-tech military toys for their special forces to indulge in. Regarding question “Do they compare to the US special forces?”, the answer is yes they’re all comparable.
All special forces around the world help each other to become comparable to each other. That’s why they had annual joint exercise or annual competition events, etc. Chinese Special Operations Forces are highly skilled, elite light infantry capable of completing difficult missions in hostile environments however there is a difference in culture and philosophy, one which becomes quite apparent. As with other Communist military regimes the spirit of the Chinese military, Special Operations included, is one that favors obedience and toughness above all, rather than critical thinking or tactical precision.
Chinese PLA classified two types of “special operations forces”, type one is what most western understands as SOF, U.S. Navy Seal, SAS like elite light infantries, there is only a small amount of them and there isn’t much information about them. However, it is known that most of these type one special forces are in China’s “WU JING”, a.k.a. Military Police Department, who are tasked for hostages rescues, border patrol etc.
Type two special forces are what we call in the western military the QRF, or quick response force, but in a very different way. These soldiers were trained in mass numbers, usually marines or airborne. They are trained in special warfare such as large Soviet style assault on an enemy stronghold, behind enemy lines maneuver, and recon missions. These are the soldiers the PLA send in first to secure a foothold of the battlefield before the large reinforcements can come in, and PLA trained these soldiers to last at least 72 hours without any kind of resupply or reinforcements.
Chinese tend to believe ‘harder’ is better than ‘smarter’, which usually proves to be less effective and much less efficient. In addition, the Chinese military has far less experience in modern warfare and most of the experience they do possess was gained from suppressing subject peoples or crushing internal dissent rather than during combat against dangerous and determined military threats. In addition, their intense dedication to Communism, relative isolation and enthusiastic nationalism undermine their objectivity. When you believe that everyone who isn’t part of your ethnic group or political ideology is inferior, you end up at a serious disadvantage not only because you believe something that is objectively false but also because you limit yourself to drawing on a much smaller talent pool.
Denying human and civil rights to the very people you expect to serve and protect you is never a good idea and the global community can see that the Communist party of China appears to do a good deal of both. There is also a lot less emphasis on developing the individual and a huge amount of time dedicated to things more political than martial, primarily ideological indoctrination. All of this puts a Chinese special forces operator at a disadvantage when compared to his American, British or Israeli counterpart.
Make no mistake, Chinese special forces are extremely capable combatants with skills comparable to those of the Operators of other major powers. With that said, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t trade them for the U.S. Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders or Delta Force.