China military to launch 'joint command' to reorganise forces: Report

BEIJING (AFP) - 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 programmes” for a joint operational command system and will establish the system “in due course", the state-run China Daily newspaper said, citing the defence ministry.

It was not clear from the report whether the regional system would be replaced.

But a more unified structure could reduce the possibility of a local commander taking unauthorised action in a crisis situation.

The defence ministry said its military modernisation was not aimed at any country, the China Daily said.

Professor Ouyang Wei from the National Defence University of the People’s Liberation Army said such a 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 Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu Islands.

China has for years had double-digit increases in its official military budget, and  Mr Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, said the country will 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,” he told China Daily. “The major concern lies at sea.”

Mr 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.”

Japan announced last month that it will buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that will beef up the defence of its far-flung southern islands.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet agreed to spend 24.7 trillion yen (S$5.17 billion) between 2014 and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country – a five per cent boost to the military budget over five years.

The China Daily report came two days after Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that China was considering reducing the number of military regions to five.

The planned revamp would mark a shift from the current army-focused, defence-oriented military to one that ensured more mobile and integrated management of the army, navy, air force and strategic missile units, Yomiuri said.