China's third plenum

People's Liberation Army aims to better co-ordinate its operation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:20am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:28am

The People's Liberation Army will better co-ordinate the work of its different military and geographical branches, according to the resolution of the just concluded Communist Party plenum published yesterday.

The document offered no details about how the military intends to improve the mechanism. There had been speculation in some local and overseas media that the plenum would change the army's command structure to strengthen its ability to fight modern wars.

Analysts said the document suggested the plenum failed to deliver sweeping changes to the military.

Military officials and experts said the PLA was keen on innovation but was unlikely to build a chain of united combatant commands similar to the United States' Pacific Command, which co-ordinates regional military, terrorism and crime-fighting capabilities.

The military system was built during peacetime and some experts wonder if the country is prepared to fight a war, especially given the various tensions with some of the country's regional neighbours.

"Both Russia and the US [have] a presidential system, with the army belonging to the country," said a senior colonel who did not wish to be named.

"But in China, the party still commands the gun. That means taking care of the party's interests is still the top priority. How could you make any big changes?"

The plenum document stressed the importance of boosting the army's fighting capabilities in joint combat operations, such as by strengthening the PLA's top brass - the Central Military Commission - and centralising information systems to let different military regions and army units, including the armed police, work together more smoothly.

"The PLA will definitely make reforms, but its steps cannot be too big," said Xu Guangyu, a former PLA major general who is now a senior researcher at the Beijing-based China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. "All foreign countries' military systems could be a reference, but it doesn't mean the PLA will copy any one of them. Past experience shows us that the current system still works. It just needs some improvement."

Despite its reluctance to make big reforms, the PLA would try its best to meet the goal of "being prepared for real combat and victory", as requested by President Xi Jinping, said Luo Yuan, a retired PLA major general.

"Those military organisations and non-combatants which fail to meet such a goal need to be reformed or adjusted, making our army smaller but capable," Luo said.