China is continuing the most significant overhaul of its military structure in decades, Bloomberg News reported Thursday. The restructuring will put the country’s armed forces under one central command and eventually cut the number of the nation’s military regions to four from seven.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told military officials at a meeting in Beijing this week that this overhaul is designed to increase the country’s military preparedness and strength. He said China aims to build an “elite combat force.” At least 200 of the country’s top military officials and officers.
“This is the biggest military overhaul since the 1950s,” said Yue Gang, a retired officer in the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department cited by Bloomberg. “The reform shakes the very foundations of China’s Soviet Union-style military system, and transferring to a U.S.-style joint command structure will transform China’s PLA into a specialized armed force that could pack more of a punch in the world.”
China has been projecting its military power beyond its borders recently, especially in the South China Sea. Ownership of territory there is being disputed by China, the Philippines and other countries in the region. The U.S. also has a stake in the dispute with respect to issues such as freedom of navigation. At present, China is boycotting a hearing about the matter before an international tribunal created by the United Nations that looks to resolve disputes in contested international waters, according to the Guardian in the U.K.
China’s current approach in the South China Sea appears to mark a shift in the country’s foreign policy. Previously, it looked as though it preferred to keep a low profile when it came to an international military presence. Now, however, it seems to be boosting its military profile abroad.