China’s President Xi Jinping will announce a massive overhaul of the country’s military command structure that would move it closer to the U.S. model of joint command as early as this month, according to a report Monday.
The new framework would bring the army, navy, air force and strategic missile corps under one unified command structure, according to unnamed Chinese military sources, cited by Bloomberg. The plan will also significantly shrink the ranks of officers and ground troops, and expand the role of the navy and air force, the sources added.
The move expands on the idea of a joint military command that China’s ruling Community Party initially endorsed in 2013. The new system, which calls for joint command structures at both regional and national levels, will replace the current region-based structure. The current structure emphasizes the primacy of the army and predates the country’s founding in 1949, and has been criticized for not accounting for advancements in warfare.
However, Xi’s plan to update China’s military capabilities had to be put on hold for months while the leader pursued a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has nabbed hundreds of state and military officials, Bloomberg reported, citing the sources.
Xi "mainly employed the anti-corruption campaign in the military to form his absolute command over the army, so that his military restructuring plan can press ahead after being initially stalled," Yue Gang, a retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonel, told Bloomberg.
In July, the Communist Party expelled Guo Boxiong, the PLA’s top retired general, on suspicion of bribery and abuse of power. The case marked the highest-level prosecution of a military official since Xi took office in 2012.
The PLA began practicing a joint command structure during a series of nationwide military exercises that began last month, the sources told Bloomberg. The Pentagon, in a May report to Congress, reportedly warned that China adopting a joint command structure “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949.”
The overhaul comes at a time when the Asian nation seeks to expand its reach in the ocean and across cyberspace. Beijing has embarked on a major construction and occupation campaign in disputed waters in the South China Sea, which has led to frequent diplomatic clashes with its neighbors and a rebuke from Washington. Both opposing sides have accused each other of military provocations, and have stepped up their military presence in the area.
A white paper by China's military from May recommended that the country should elevate the role of active defense. It also accused several other nations of escalating their own military presence, noting that the U.S. was enhancing “its military presences and its military alliances” in Asia, and also discussed Japan’s recent efforts to redefine the role of its army, accusing Tokyo of “sparing no effort to dodge the post-war mechanism.”
Meanwhile, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama decided to retaliate against China for a major cyberattack in June wherein personal information of 21 million federal employees was stolen. U.S. officials are reportedly considering more muscular measures to deter Chinese aggression, which could include diplomatic protests, economic sanctions or retaliatory cyberattacks.