China's army to get more prominent role in military reform

About 200 new recruits of the Chinese army take part in a training in Heihe on Oct 21, 2015.
About 200 new recruits of the Chinese army take part in a training in Heihe on Oct 21, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's army will get a more prominent role under military reform proposals announced this week and there will also be more help for those who lose their jobs as a result of the changes, the Defence Ministry said on Friday (Nov 27).

President Xi Jinping unveiled a broad-brush outline of the reforms this week, seeking further modernisation of the command structure of the world's largest armed forces to better enable it to win a modern war.

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

His reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000.

Spokesman Yang Yujun shed a little more light on the reforms in a statement carried on the ministry's website, saying an army leadership mechanism would be set up to centralise a command structure previously shared by four departments, including those responsible for logistics and politics.

"The army is an important force in our military," Yang said."The setting up of this army mechanism will benefit ... raising management efficiency and accelerate military modernisation." Yang said the joint operational command structure was needed to ensure the ability to win a modern war.

He gave no details on either move.

China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but operational integration of complex and disparate systems across a regionalised command structure is a major challenge.

So-called paid for services are also going, meaning non-core activities such as military-run hospitals open to the public will be ditched. The military was banned from commercial activities in 1998.

Yang gave no details but said the move would help "clean up the military's work style", a likely reference to anti-graft efforts. Xi has cracked down hard on corruption in the military.

It was not clear if the government would give more information about the reform plan.

The troop cuts and broader reform programme have already proven controversial, though, and the official People's Liberation Army Daily has published a series of commentaries in recent weeks warning of opposition to the reforms.

China has previously faced protests from demobilised soldiers, who have complained about a lack of support finding new jobs or help with financial problems.

In an apparent reference to such concerns, Yang said more attention would be paid to looking after those affected by the military's downsizing and "concern shown to resolve real difficulties".