The Chinese navy also cruises the Indian Ocean, contributing to international anti-piracy efforts, while PLA peacekeepers are on duty in Africa and the Middle East.
In hardened silos and on mobile transporters, the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps is modernizing China’s modest, but expanding armory of nuclear missiles, Chinese and foreign military analysts have said.
During Xi’s tenure, likely to last another nine years, this force is expected to be bolstered with China’s first effective ballistic-missile nuclear submarines. If PLA engineers can make them stealthy, these subs will be capable of retaliating if China comes under nuclear attack, according to Chinese and foreign military assessments.
All this has been a dramatic change. In the late 1990s, visiting foreign military officers scoffed at China’s poorly equipped army. After more than three decades of soaring military spending, infusions of foreign and domestic technology and improvements in training, the PLA is transformed.
“There is no question China’s power is growing,” US Naval War College Chinese military analyst Li Nan (李南) said. “That is contributing to a higher level of confidence.”
Reflecting the more complex military challenges China faces, Xi has moved to establish a national security commission, thought to be modeled on the US National Security Council.
No details about the proposed new body have been released. Foreign diplomats believe it is aimed at tightening coordination between
China’s sprawling military, intelligence, diplomatic and internal security agencies. Xi is likely to head the new body, according to several people familiar with the move.
Xi is keeping his generals close. The military’s top two commanders are almost always photographed at his elbow on his frequent visits to exercises, frontline units and military schools: army General Fan Changlong (范長龍) and air force General Xu Qiliang (許其亮).
He has also been quick to begin putting his own men at the top of the PLA hierarchy.
Within days of taking over from Hu as head of the Central Military Commission in November last year, Xi promoted Wei Fenghe (魏風和), commander of the Second Artillery Corps and member of the CMC, to full general. In late July and early August, he promoted six officers to the rank of four-star general, and 18 to lieutenant-general.
Eleven of those 24 officers are political generals, India’s Institute of Defence Analysis Chinese expert Bijoy Das said.
“In essence it indicates that the Party is co-opting a section of the PLA echelon to ensure that the ‘Party holds the gun,’” he said.
Xi is shown mixing with the lower ranks, too. Dressed in plain military-style khaki slacks and shirt, the solidly built 60-year-old stands in mess lines, selects a plate and chopsticks from a stack and is filmed eating and chatting with soldiers and sailors.
Xi, like all CCP leaders, insists the PLA is bound with the party’s fortunes. The army delivered political power with its civil war victory in 1949 over the Nationalists. It fought the US to a prestige-enhancing stalemate in Korea.
It buffered tumult at home in the early decades of the People’s Republic and ended the 1989 Tiananmen protests in a bloody crackdown.
In his task of cementing ties with the generals, Xi had a head start.