Mark Collins – “China’s President Xi Solidifies Power with Overhaul of Military”

Well, not quite yet–at Defense One’s “D-Brief”:

China is reportedly on the verge of restructuring its military—a “sweeping overhaul,” Bloomberg calls it—“moving it closer to a U.S.-style joint command structure” so that, as President Xi Jinping said, it can “fight and win a modern war” by “shift[ing] from a land-based military to one able to project force far from its coastline.” China’s inability to fight a joint battle—or, meaning with more than one military service—has long been the Pentagon’s “don’t worry about China” card. The People’s Liberation Army still would lack one key component: experience.

What’s new? China’s army, navy, air force and missile corps would fall under one command, according to Bloomberg’s unnamed sources, while also “thinning the ranks of officers and traditional ground forces, helping elevate the role of the navy and air force.” China’s seven military regions would also be collapsed into just four, according to a blueprint Xi will reportedly unveil after Thursday’s WWII victory parade in Beijing [see last link at quote below].

What’s not new? The broad strokes of the plan were initially laid out nearly two years ago, but the effort has been “delayed for months as anti-graft investigators swept up dozens of current and retired generals.”

A consolidation of this magnitude “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949,” according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, submitted in May…


China: President Xi Gripping the PLA, Part 2

Top Dragon Purging On…

The Asian Maritime Cockpit, Eagle vs Dragon Section

Big Week for China Watchers

J-31 stealth fighter (Photo: Xinhuanet Photo/

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


11 thoughts on “Mark Collins – “China’s President Xi Solidifies Power with Overhaul of Military””

  1. At Foreign Policy’s “Situation Report” (further links at original):


    China’s parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is a big deal for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which plans to show off some new military kit in the procession. The guest list for the parade is undergoing some diplomatic red carpet scrutiny over which countries are sending high level representatives and which are sending lower ranking emissaries or skipping out altogether, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. and major European countries have mostly opted to send lesser officials. The most notable absence, however, is from North Korea, whose provocative actions lately have strained its traditionally warm relations with China.

    As part of the parade prep, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is trying to make sure no birds spoil the show by flying into the engines of planes slated for flyovers. The New York Times reports that the service has established a crack unit of macaque monkeys to take care of the avian threat, having trained them to scurry up trees and destroy birds nests at a nearby air base in advance of the event…”

    Mark Collins

  2. Note missiles:

    ‘China holds massive military parade, to cut troop levels by 300,000

    President Xi Jinping announced on Thursday [Sept. 2] he would cut troop levels by 300,000 as China held its biggest display of military might in a parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War Two, an event shunned by most Western leaders.

    China’s confidence in its armed forces and growing military assertiveness, especially in the disputed South China Sea, has rattled the region and drawn criticism from Washington.

    Xi, speaking on a rostrum overlooking Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before the parade began, said China would cut by 13 percent one of the world’s biggest militaries, currently 2.3-million strong.

    The Defence Ministry said the cuts would be mostly complete by the end of 2017. The move is likely part of long-mooted military rationalization plans, which have included spending more money on high-tech weapons for the navy and air force. Troop numbers have been cut three times already since the 1980s…

    Among the weapons China unveiled for the first time was an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-21D, which is reportedly capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with one hit.

    Also shown were several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A as well as the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile, dubbed the “Guam killer” in reference to a U.S. Pacific Ocean base…’


    ‘Dragon’s Cruise Missiles Could Make Things Tough for USN “Pacific Pivot”’

    Mark Collins

  3. The Economist notices:

    ‘Reforming the armed forces
    Command and lack of control
    A cut in the number of troops may presage wider military reform

    The army has long been the senior service. Almost three quarters of active-duty personnel are soldiers. The navy and air-force chiefs did not have seats on the main institution for exercising civilian control over the armed forces, the Central Military Commission, until 2004. It was only in 2012 that an officer outside the ranks of the army became its most senior military figure. The army’s dominance is a problem at a time when China is expanding its influence in the South China Sea and naval strategy is looming larger.

    Moreover, there has long been a split within the PLA between combat forces (which kill the enemy) and other operations (logistics, transport and so on) which are regarded as secondary. But in modern, high-tech warfare, non front-line services such as those responsible for cyberwarfare and electronic surveillance often matter more than tanks and infantry.

    Embodying these outdated traditions is a top-heavy, ill-co-ordinated structure with four headquarters and seven regional commands. Many Chinese analysts argue that, as now constituted, the PLA would not be able to conduct modern information-intensive military operations which integrate all the services properly.

    China has long talked about military reform. In late 2013 Mr Xi told fellow leaders that the command system for joint operations was “not strong enough”. It was duly announced that China would “optimise the size and structure” of the armed forces. China Daily, an English-language newspaper, said that a “joint operational command system” would be introduced “in due course”.

    It now appears that these changes are under way. Mr Xi was recently quoted in PLA Daily, a newspaper, saying that “we have a rare window … to deepen [military] reform”. It is possible that Mr Xi’s anti-corruption purge, which has taken aim at two men (one now dead) who were once the country’s most powerful military figures, as well as 50 other generals, may have weakened opposition enough for change to begin.

    The South China Morning Post, a newspaper in Hong Kong, recently published what it described as a radical plan devised by military reformers. This would scrap three of the four headquarters, reduce the number of regional military commands to four and give a more prominent role to the navy. It remains to be seen whether Mr Xi will go that far. But there is no doubt that, in order to fulfil what he calls China’s “dream of a strong armed forces”, he wants a leaner, more efficient PLA. To China’s neighbours, that would make it even more frightening.’

    Mark Collins

  4. Now a separate missile service:

    ‘China creates three new military units in push to modernise army

    China has created three new military units and will update equipment as well as modernising its command structure, state media said on Friday, as part of a major overhaul of the armed forces announced by President Xi Jinping in November.

    Xi’s push to reform the military coincides with China becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and its air force is developing stealth fighters.

    At a ceremony on Thursday, Xi inaugurated a new general command unit for the army, a missile force and a strategic support force for People’s Liberation Army (PLA), state news agency Xinhua said.

    State television showed Xi handing over a large red flag to Li Zuocheng, the new head of the land command force. Li was previously commander of the key Chengdu military region, which includes restless and strategically vital Tibet.

    The missile force is taking over from the Second Artillery Corps to control the country’s nuclear arsenal but keeping the same commander, Wei Fenghe.

    Xinhua said Xi urged the new unit to “enhance nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capacity, medium- and long-range precision strike ability, as well as strategic check-and-balance capacity to build a strong and modern Rocket Force”.

    His reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000, a surprise announcement he made in September…”

    Mark Collins

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