Military needs lighter, stronger structure, Xi Jinping says

But a bottom-up approach is the only way to change culture of China’s armed forces, according to analyst

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2016, 10:49pm

China will press on with streamlining its military structure as it tries to ramp up combat strength, President Xi Jinping said over the weekend.

Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission which oversees the People’s Liberation Army, told a two-day conference on military reform in Beijing that the miliary should be smaller but stronger.

“The army should put less stress on quantity and focus more on improving quality to build a capable and efficient modern armed forces,” state-run Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

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New types of forces must be developed and troops should be downsized, he said.

Xi announced in September last year that the armed forces would shed 300,000 troops from a total of 2.3 million.

The People’s Liberation Army has also regrouped from seven military regions into five theatre commands.

“The military will not be proactive in strategy and war if it lags in structure,” Xi said. “We must seize the opportunity and make breakthroughs.”

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Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said it would take some time for the new structure to bear fruit.

“It is likely the basic combat units will be empowered and trained in their respective forces, and combined to meet a battle’s needs, environment, opponent, and all kinds of specific circumstances. Generally, the more hi-tech the force is, the smaller a basic unit will be,” he said.

Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of Technology in Jiangxi, said combat forces were structured around weapons and communication systems, which would have to change as warfare evolved.

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“We are not very clear about this at this stage. We only have a general idea that a ... [hi-tech] military will focus on smaller combat units. For instance, a battle is not likely to involve hundreds of divisions. Rather it is likely to take place on the level of a brigade, which will be much more empowered,” Zeng said.

“I don’t think major changes can be achieved by a top-down approach. The change in the PLA’s structure will not change its culture. But if the reform reaches the company level, a bottom-up change could only make a big ­difference.”