Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) formally reorganized the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under five “battle zones,” securing the last major piece expected in China’s biggest military overhaul in decades.
Xi, who also serves as commander-in-chief, presided over a ceremony at the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing on Monday to formally convey banners to generals in charge of the new zones, Xinhua news agency said.
The areas — northern, southern, eastern, western and central — replace seven military regions and unify the branches under a single command structure for the first time. The new commanders and political commissars for the five zones were also announced, Xinhua said.
The regional rezoning was the last major component of a shakeup first floated by Xi more than two years ago and intended to make the world’s largest army better equipped to project force beyond the country’s borders. The overhaul comes at a time when China has become more assertive about its territorial claims over the East China Sea and South China Sea, raising tension with its neighbors and the US.
“It is designed to streamline command-and-control functions and organizationally restructure the PLA into a military better able to wage war in the information age and make it more accountable to the party,” said Andrew Scobell, a senior political scientist at RAND Corp. “It remains to be seen how successful the reforms will be and how long the reorganization will take.”
The creation of the battle zones “marks a strategic decision made by the party central leadership and the Central Military Commission with the aim of realizing the Chinese dream and the strong-army dream,” Xi said, according to Xinhua.
“All battle zones must unwaveringly listen to the party’s direction, insist upon the party’s absolute leadership,” Xi said.
Defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun (楊宇軍) said in a separate statement posted online that China would maintain its “defensive national defence policy” and that the country’s development and foreign policy would be unchanged
Bloomberg first reported details of the plan in September last year, days before Xi announced the reorganization during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
The plan calls for reducing the 2.3 million-member PLA by 300,000 and redefining missions and responsibilities among the military branches, with the goal of building a fighting force that “can win modern wars.”
“The reforms will also increase CCP [Chinese Communist Party] control over the military, and Xi Jinping’s personal control as chairman of the Central Military Commission,” said Phillip Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington. “The reform is bigger than I expected, and will be disruptive to the PLA until it is fully implemented, probably by 2020.”
The overhaul has been rolled out in recent months, including Xi’s announcement on Sept. 3 last year of the overhaul and troop reduction and the establishment on Nov. 26 of a joint military command that brought all branches of the armed forces under one roof.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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