The mainland's vast armed forces are in for a 'substantial, expansive and focused' shake-up in the coming year, with a senior military official hinting at an extensive cut in non-combatant personnel.
The streamlining is to free up resources for the military to upgrade hardware and restructure, a key official at the top military school of the People's Liberation Army told CCTV.
'In the new year, we need to develop better weapons, improve the organisational structure of military units, and greatly cut back on bureaucracy and non-combatant personnel to allow military development to proceed in a more focused direction,' Ou Jianping, director of the PLA National Defence University's institute of research on military structure, told the state broadcaster.
Analysts have been predicting such a move, but Ou's comments are the first clear indication from a senior military official that significant restructuring is imminent.
The remarks came as President Hu Jintao called for control over the military to be strengthened through the expansion of party organisations within the PLA.
In his first message of the year in his capacity as chairman of the Central Military Commission, Hu called for closer ties between the party and military organisations, and stressed the structural importance of party control in the PLA's modernisation.
The directive also made a lengthy appeal for the military leadership to intensify efforts to clamp down on corruption, a persistent problem within the PLA in recent years.
The defence ministry last month announced plans to reform the PLA's spending system - accounting for a third of its total budget - in an attempt to stamp out corruption.
Acknowledging defects in the current system for buying weaponry, the ministry said it would introduce a standardised bidding process for arms deals, bringing some market mechanisms into the strictly controlled industry.
Defence analyst Ma Dingsheng said a significant cutback in non-combatant military personnel had been on the cards as the PLA leadership 'long ago realised that just having lots of soldiers is no longer any use'.
'Some have been predicting [a cut of] 200,000, while others say it will be as many as 300,000,' Ma said.
He said the military budget was expected to increase this year from about US$70 billion to some US$80 billion, but the restructuring process showed the leadership was not simply throwing money at the problem.
'The current level of expenditure puts the mainland on the level of countries like Korea,' he said. 'But if we want to be on a par with the top nations such as Britain, Japan and the US, then there is still a long way to go.
'The only way for China to catch up is to rationalise the use of the budget and ensure money is being spent effectively.'
Ma acknowledged that corruption was a perennial headache for the PLA leadership and was now endemic in the system. 'The PLA now has ... a lot of money,' he said. 'It is very easy for top personnel to divert money to enrich themselves, because they can keep details of their expenditure from being made public. In fact, they are expressly forbidden from making it public.'
However, Ma said efforts to clamp down on the problem were unlikely to have much impact. 'There is nothing that can be done about it, due to the complete lack of public scrutiny and the lack of media scrutiny. It is just a case of the army keeping tabs on itself and that simply doesn't work,' he said.