Xi Jinping's latest title: Commander in chief of battle command centre

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (not pictured) in Beijing, on April 19, 2016.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (not pictured) in Beijing, on April 19, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

China has unveiled President Xi Jinping's newest title, commander-in-chief of China's new joint battle command centre, another move in what is seen as a consolidation of his power over the military.

The official Xinhua news agency and state broadcaster CCTV both carried reports referring to Mr Xi by the new description for the first time after he visited the command centre on Wednesday wearing a new camouflage uniform.

Mr Xi is also general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). He also heads the National Security Council, which gives him greater control over domestic security services.

Military experts said the new position, which strengthens Mr Xi's status as China's most powerful leader in decades, signals the stamping of his personal authority over the world's biggest army and a more direct role in overseeing it. This is as opposed to his predecessors like Mr Hu Jintao who delegated operational responsibilities to professional soldiers. It is also part of wider military reforms the leader has spearheaded to make the People's Liberation Army (PLA) a leaner and more efficient fighting force, they added.

The command centre, meant to improve coordination between different parts of China's defence force, was set up as part of a major reshuffle of the country's military structure.

"The new role signals that Mr Xi is now in charge of all aspects of the military," said Beijing-based military analyst Song Zhongping. "This means not just the macro issues such as how to build up and manage a strong military, which the CMC is responsible for, but the finer details of battle strategy too."

Dr Michael Raska, from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that the move could also be part of efforts to quicken the pace of reforms at the operational level.

"The Chinese military has traditionally suffered from poor coordination of its various forces - the air force, army and navy," he told The Straits Times. "Mr Xi's new role is designed to help better integrate these units as part of military reforms, which he has been taking a hands-on approach to."

The latest announcement comes even as Beijing has become more assertive regionally, including building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.

During Mr Xi's visit on Wednesday, he stressed that battle command capacities should be measured by "the standards of being able to fight and win wars", according to state media.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Xi's latest title - commander-in-chief of battle command centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe