Xi Jinping has taken another step forward on his reform agenda, with a massive reorganization and streamlining of China’s armed forces. Reuters:
Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a military restructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to transform it into a leaner fighting force with improved joint operations capability, state media said.
Centered around a new, condensed structure of 84 military units, the reshuffle builds on Xi’s years-long efforts to modernize the PLA with greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare. […]
Retired PLA Major-General Xu Guangyu, a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the restructure represented the second major phase of Xi’s reforms.
“Since military reforms started it has been one step at a time,” Xu told Reuters. “The high-level framework is now in place, now this is the second phase targeting the entire mid-ranking levels of the military.”
Military reform has long been high on Xi’s agenda, with the goal of both purging the ranks of corruption and modernizing the PLA for a 21st century threat landscape. That agenda has never been without controversy: there have long been signs of daylight between the PLA leadership and the party over Xi’s troops cuts and efforts to consolidate control over the army.
Nevertheless, Xi persisted—and as China watcher Bill Bishop notes in his must-read newsletter Sinocism, the restructuring may have more buy-in from the army ranks than is commonly assumed. Some officers will indeed suffer a status cut due to the reforms, but many others will owe their promotions and new assignments to the president himself—”a countervailing force often forgotten,” Bishop writes, “amidst some of the exaggerated talk that Xi has upset the PLA with his reforms and corruption crackdown.”
In any case, the military modernization is another sign of Xi’s determined ambitions to reshape China as a great power according to his own vision. Expect a lot more of these dramatic moves this year, as Xi builds momentum for this fall’s Party Congress and makes the case that his “core” leadership has already left its mark on China for the better.