China’s armed forces plan to set up a joint operational command system to “enhance efficiency” in crisis response, state media reported on Friday.
At present the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s biggest military, which incorporates China’s navy and air force, is arranged on a geographical system with land forces at its core and dividing the country into seven regions.
Now the military has “launched positive pilot programs” for a joint operational command system and will establish the system “in due course,” the state-run China Daily newspaper said, citing the Chinese Defense Ministry.
It was not clear from the report whether the regional system would be replaced.
However, a more unified structure could reduce the possibility of a local commander taking unauthorized action in a crisis situation.
The Chinese Ministry of Defense said its military modernization was not aimed at any country, the China Daily said.
Arthur Ding (丁樹範), an expert on China’s military at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said internal discussions over setting up such a system had been going on for years and it could be seen as part of China’s military modernization.
“The Chinese military a long time ago realized that the so-called joint operation is an inevitable trend for the military to develop and they’re really working hard to accomplish that kind of goal,” he said.
China was certain to reduce the number of military regions, he said, although the issue was sensitive with top brass.
“If you cut many military regions, many slots will be cut,” he said, adding that reducing them to five was “probably the most the military can accept.”
The China Daily quoted Ouyang Wei (歐陽維), a professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, saying a joint command system would increase the military’s speed in responding to an emergency.
“The system, which has been popular in the West for decades, is not [aimed at] starting a war, but to kill it in the cradle,” he told the paper.
Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a simmering territorial row over the Tokyo-controlled Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — in the East China Sea, which Taiwan and China also claim.
China has for years had double-digit increases in its official military budget and China Council for National Security Policy Studies deputy secretary-general Li Qinggong (李慶功) said the country would focus on improving its high-tech sea, air and nuclear arsenals.
China’s navy — by adding aircraft carriers and stronger fleets — was likely to be the highest priority.
“China has built an iron bastion in its border regions,” Li told China Daily. “The major concern lies at sea.”
Zhao Xiaozhuo, of the PLA Academy of Military Science, told the paper that contingencies at sea were viewed as ever more likely.
“An increasingly efficient military will not necessarily be a more aggressive one,” he was quoted as saying.
“China has made its peaceful stand clear, but it is time to improve its combat ability,” he added.
Japan announced last month it would buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that would beef up the defense of its far-flung southern islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet agreed to spend ￥24.7 trillion (US$237 billion) between this year and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country — a 5 percent boost to the military budget over five years.