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Accelerating Military Reform
Newly-released defense reforms aim to create efficiencies, fortify military apparatus
By Wang Hairong | NO. 50 DECEMBER 10, 2015

Comprehensive defense and military reform measures were rolled out by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a meeting in Beijing on November 24-26, with the goal of streamlining chains of command throughout the defense structure and increasing the country's military preparedness.

In his speech, Xi, who also serves as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), stressed that updates and restructuring are crucial to the military's future.

Xi said the new structure will put the CMC in charge of the overall administration of the armed forces, while battle zone commands focus on combat-related operations, and different military services pursue their own building. The CMC will also be changed into an organization with multiple departments, and will be able to directly administer and command various military units.

The new reform program also includes plans to regroup military area commands into battle zone commands, and set up and improve joint combat command organizations under the CMC and every battle zone. It says that a three-tier combat command system will be established that runs from the CMC to battle zone commands and to troops, and a military administration system that runs from the CMC through various services to the troops.

A military area command is mainly in charge of formulating programs and plans for combat readiness and operations of troops and for reserve force buildup in the military area. It also organizes and commands joint operations and exercises of the ground, naval and air forces in each military area, according to "China's National Defense in 2000" white paper.

By 2020, breakthroughs should be made in the administrative system and the joint battle command system, Xi said.

An article published in The PLA Daily  hailed the reforms as the most significant changes to the military commanding system since 1949. The paper said that this structural and revolutionary system overhaul is unprecedented in both forcefulness and impact.

New structure 

China's armed forces are composed of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Armed Police Force and the militia, which are all commanded by the CMC. Under the CMC are four general headquarters or departments—the PLA's General Staff Headquarters, General Political Department, General Logistics Department and General Armaments Department, which are respectively responsible for military, political, logistical and equipment work.

The CMC, through these four general headquarters or departments, directs and commands all military area commands as well as services and arms. The above four general headquarters or departments also handle the routine work of the Ministry of Defense.

The current military command system featuring the four general headquarters or departments has played an important role historically, yet social developments have made the system increasingly outdated, according to Yin Zhuo, a retired navy admiral.

Yin recently told Xinhua News Agency that the military departments are segmented and overstaffed, and too many are calling the shots. This round of reforms is meant to put these departments under the CMC to ensure that orders are passed smoothly and carried out in coordination, he said.

The new round of military reform has also addressed the concerns of Wang Xiaohui, a professor with the National Defense University PLA China. In a paper published in a military publication National Defense Reference , Wang wrote that at present, most military organizations are responsible for training, management and supply, and as a result, their combat command function has been weakened. He believes it is imperative to have two separate lines of command, one for combat command and the other for military administration.

He suggested that the PLA's three services--the Army (ground force), Navy and Air Force--and the Second Artillery Force should have their own leading bodies, respectively, which would be responsible for military construction and administration in times of peace, and for supplying qualified troops and combat support to joint command organizations of battle zones in times of war.

Currently, the Army has no independent leading body, and is led by the four general headquarters or departments; whereas the Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery Force each has a leading body. The CMC has now decided to set up a general command center for the Army.

Balancing services 

Military experts believe that the above structural changes will adapt China's current military apparatus to modern warfare. In China's present defense system, the ground force is dominant. But future warfare requires the joint operations of various services. In particular, hi-tech air and navy forces should play a more prominent role, said Li Jing, a professor at the National Defense University PLA China.

In the past, joint operations were not emphasized enough, said Zhao Xiaozhuo, a researcher with the Academy of Military Sciences of the PLA. Zhao said in an interview with that this round of reform addressed the difficulty in conducting such missions by setting up joint operation organizations under the CMC and battle zone commands, and putting the forces of various services under the battle zone commands rather than the ground force only, making joint operations easier.

To Li, another significant measure for preparing the armed forces for modern warfare is the CMC's decision to cut the number of its standing troops by 300,000. The troop cut was first announced by Xi on September 3. This troop cut, the 11th since 1949, is meant to optimize the structure of troops and improve their quality and efficiency, according to military experts.

Xu Guangyu, a retired major general, said that the army will be reduced first, because the current Army, Navy and Air Force ratio is unreasonable. He added that in the current era, clinging to the old idea of maintaining a big ground force--while regarding the navy and air force as auxiliaries--goes against the world trend and could lead to disastrous consequences.

According to "The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces" white paper published in 2013, the ratio between the Army, Navy and Air Force was 72 to 11 to 17. Xu believes that the reasonable ratio between the three forces should be 5 to 2.5 to 2.5.

Supervising power 

This round of reforms also includes measures to strictly manage the armed forces and oversee the exercise of power in the military.

"Decision-making, enforcement and supervision powers should be separated and distributed in a manner that ensures that they serve as checks and balances on each other but also run in parallel," Xi said during the recent meeting.

In recent years, several serious cases of military corruption have been exposed. For instance, in 2014, Xu Caihou, former Vice Chairman of the CMC, was probed over corruption allegations including accepting bribes from officers seeking promotions. Earlier this year, another former CMC Vice Chairman, Guo Boxiong, was also investigated for corruption. Gu Junshan, former deputy head of the PLA General Logistics Department, was removed from his post in 2012 and later sent to prison for embezzlement, bribery and misuse of government funds and the abuse of power.

To eradicate corruption, the CMC decided to establish a new discipline inspection commission under its jurisdiction and send disciplinary inspectors to CMC departments and battle zone commands. The CMC will have an audit office and a political and legal affairs commission. The military judicial system will also be adjusted to ensure the independent and fair exertion of judicial power by military courts and procuratorates.

Zhao said that it is widely accepted that the Chinese military must be reformed, so as to accelerate both the defense forces and the nation's development.

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell

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