Wed, Sep 23, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Some voices of resistance heard over PLA troop cuts

BACKLASH:Commentaries in military-run newspapers have said the 300,000-strong reduction announced by Xi Jinping on Sept. 3 would be difficult to implement

Reuters, BEIJING

Bitterness is growing within China’s armed forces to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) decision to cut troop numbers by 300,000 and considerable effort will be needed to overcome opposition to the order, according to a source and commentaries in the military’s newspaper.

Xi made the unexpected announcement on Sept. 3 at a military parade in Beijing marking 70 years since the end of World War II in Asia. The move would reduce by 13 percent one of the world’s biggest militaries, currently 2.3 million strong.

One government official, who meets regularly with senior officers, said some inside the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) felt the announcement had been rushed and taken by Xi with little consultation outside the Central Military Commission.

Xi heads the commission.

“It’s been too sudden,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People are very worried. A lot of good officers will lose their jobs and livelihoods. It’s going to be tough for soldiers.”

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense, in a statement sent to reporters, said the “broad mass” of officers and soldiers “resolutely endorsed the important decision of the [Chinese Communist] Party center and Central Military Commission and obey orders.”

It has said the cuts, the fourth since the 1980s, would be mostly completed by the end of 2017.

Experts say the move is likely part of long-mooted rationalization plans, which have included changing the PLA command structure so it less resembles a Soviet-era model and spending more money on the navy and air force as Beijing asserts its territorial claims in the disputed South and East China Seas.

Soon after Xi’s announcement, Xinhua news agency published a long article quoted soldiers as supporting the decision. Each branch of the military believed the cuts would raise quality standards, it said.

However, commentaries in the PLA Daily newspaper have since warned that the reductions would be hard to carry out. Chinese state media often run commentaries that reflect the official line of the institution publishing the newspaper.

China has previously faced protests from demobilized soldiers, who have complained about a lack of support finding new jobs or help with financial problems. A protest by thousands of former soldiers over pensions was reported in June, although the ministry denied any knowledge of the incident.

The PLA is already reeling from Xi’s crackdown on corruption, which has seen dozens of officers investigated, including two former vice chairmen of the commission.

Barely a week after the Beijing parade, the PLA Daily said the troop cuts and other military reforms Xi wished to undertake would require “an assault on fortified positions” to change mindsets and root out vested interests, and that the difficulties expected would be “unprecedented.”

If these reforms failed, measures still to come would be “nothing more than an empty sheet of paper,” it said.

It did not give details on the planned reforms, but state media has said they will likely involve better integration of all PLA branches. As part of this move, China’s seven military regions are expected to be reduced. There had been no previous suggestion big troop cuts were planned.

Another commentary in the PLA Daily published a week later detailed the kind of opposition Xi faced: “Some units suffer from inertia and think everything’s already great. Some are scared of hardships, blame everyone and everything but themselves... They shirk work and find ways of avoiding difficulty.”

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