President Xi Jinping’s announcement of troop reductions at last month’s 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has many soldiers in the PLA unhappy, according to a Chinese government official. “People are very worried,” he said. “A lot of good officers will lose their jobs and livelihoods. It’s going to be tough for soldiers.” Xi decided on the reductions, which amount to 13 percent of China’s fighting force, “suddenly” and with little input from anyone outside the highest commission governing the army, which the President heads.
The PLA has other reasons to be restive: Xi’s anti-corruption purge has targeted the highest levels of the military. In June, a PLA newspaper said Xi’s proposed reforms and earlier, smaller troop cuts would meet serious opposition, requiring “an assault on fortified positions” in order to change anything within the army.
This unrest in the army, a body which is never perfectly under the control of the government even in calm times, should make Beijing officials a tad nervous. A coup may be unlikely, but it is “conceivable”, Sulmaan Khan argued in the March/April issue of our magazine. It’s never safe to antagonize the guys with the guns.
China’s military needs to change; the revolution in military affairs is reducing the importance of boots on the ground and raising the importance of bytes on the chip. But that change is wrenching; officers and enlisted men don’t like to be laid off, and local governments hate it when bases close.
President Xi does not seem fated to enjoy a quiet life in power.