China says consulted widely on army reform, President Xi Jinping closely involved

A Chinese J-10 aircraft from the People's Liberation Army Air Force prepares to take off during at an air base in Korat on Nov 24.
A Chinese J-10 aircraft from the People's Liberation Army Air Force prepares to take off during at an air base in Korat on Nov 24.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's military consulted widely on its sweeping reform programme, with President Xi Jinping closely involved by speaking with soldiers on the frontlines and hand-writing suggestions, the army's newspaper said on Thursday (Dec 31).

Mr Xi unveiled a broad-brush outline of the reforms last month, seeking further streamlining of the command structure of the world's largest armed forces, including job losses, to better enable it to win a modern war.

He is determined to modernise at the same time as China becomes more assertive in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China's navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and the air force is developing stealth fighters.

The reforms, kicked off in September with Mr Xi's announcement he would cut service personnel by 300,000, have been controversial.

The military's newspaper has published almost daily commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and worries about lost jobs, and warnings that reforms are needed to win wars.

In a lengthy front page commentary, the People's Liberation Army Daily outlined the steps taken to listen to everyone's opinions on the reforms, including Mr Xi's involvement.

"Chairman Xi went into offices and visited colleges, went to the plateaus, visited the borders, sat in driving seats and cockpits, taking the pulse of reform with soldiers," the newspaper said.

The reform commission took opinions from more than 900 current and former senior officers and experts, issued questionnaires and received thousands of online suggestions, the report said.

There were more than 800 meetings about reform from March to October this year covering almost 700 military bases and units, the newspaper said. The article was also carried in the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily.

Mr Xi "found time" to attend meetings on the feedback, saying he wanted to "listen to everyone's opinion", it said.

"Every line, every word and every character - Chairman Xi earnestly reviewed every draft, putting forward many guiding suggestions, making many important changes with this own hand," the report said.

The enthusiasm for reform and willingness to listen to all sides meant the process was "ardently participated in" by soldiers throughout the ranks, it said.

Despite such warm words, the same newspaper told high-ranking officers earlier in December to hold their tongues about concerns over military reform, recommending those who support it most resolutely be promoted.