|From 7 to 4 Military Regions|
Under the new rules, ‘PLA Inc’ will stop its song and dance, hospitals and other profit-making activities.
Will this help solving the problem of deep-corruption within the Chinese defence forces, is another question.
It is indeed a fact that the PLA, which once upon the time was a Peasants’ Army, has become corrupt, very corrupt and incompetent.
The South China Morning Post commented: “For decades, the PLA has profited from accepting civilian patients at military hospitals, leasing military warehouses to commercial firms, hiring PLA song and dance troupes for public events, outsourcing military construction companies, and opening military academies and institutions to public students.”
Yang Yujun, the Ministry of National Defense’s spokesman told a press briefing: “Bringing a full end to the PLA’s paid services to external parties will purify the military ethos and maintain the nature and the true colour of the people’s army.”
As the Hong Kong daily explains: “The PLA was extensively involved in economic affairs until the late 1990s, when the central leadership realised that the army’s profit-seeking operations had resulted in PLA top brass abusing their special privileges and power by promoting their business interests.” It cites the case of senior naval officers sending warships abroad to smuggle home appliances and cars.
This may change. For the defence forces which represent the most traditional segment of the Chinese society, the new catchword is ‘reforms’.
Beijing seems decided to shake up the PLA’s different branches by establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and reducing the existing Military Areas Commands (MACs) from 7 to 4.
In a long speech carried by Xinhua, the Chinese President gave a rather detailed report on the planned reforms. He also reiterated his September pledge to cut by 300,000, the number of the ground forces.
Xi asserted: "Under the leadership of the Communist Party, our military has gone from small to big, from weak to strong, from victory to victory. On this road, reform and innovation steps have never stopped."
Reuters commented: “The troop cuts are part of long-mooted reforms to simplify and further professionalize the military, especially command and leadership structures that are still largely run along Soviet lines.”
What is the objective of this exercise apart from cutting corruption rampant in each Department?
The declared purpose of the exercise is to have, by 2020, a military setup ‘capable of winning information-age warfare’.
It is clear that ‘efficiency’ is the new mantra.
According to Yang Yujun: “The reform plan will focus on the improvement of the leadership and management system, restructuring of CMC’s departments by function reallocation; [and setting up] a joint operational command organization and system to coordinate battle zone commands.”
It is obvious that if China wants to pick up a fight with the United States or Japan or even with its smaller neighbours, its armed forces need to be ready. Today, they are not.
Yang said the streamlining and downsizing of the military will start from the CMC. By focusing on major functions and merging similar functions, the multiple-department CMC should become more efficient to supervise and coordinate the defence forces.
The ratio between the Army, Navy, Air Force and strategic forces (known as Second Artillery Force) will need to be rebalanced to take care of “the increasingly complicated global situation faced by the world's largest rising power,” said The Global Times.
Major General Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association told the Party’s mouthpiece “Establishing a joint operational command system …coupled with the setting up of battle zone commands, could enable the military to conduct operations more efficiently.”
General Xu further explained: “The joint operational command system will empower battle zone commands, which focus on operations, to deploy troops of all services and arms.”
Rear Admiral Yang Yi of the PLA navy, told the same publication that the reforms will help “training troops of all services in coordination from the very beginning, to ensure that they can work together closely in combat.”
Apparently, a large number of staff will be out of jobs, mainly in the Political Department. How will the retirees take this?
The Ministry of National Defence spokesman explained that “veterans are valuable to the Party and country, as they have completed strict training and important tasks, and will be granted special job placement policies upon transfer or retirement.” Easier said than done!
It was also announced that a new branch of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) will be setup within the CMC. All officers may not welcome this. Already on November 18, before the ‘reforms’ were announced, The Trend Magazine, published in Hong Kong mentioned a gunshot fight between a military law enforcement team and some corrupt officers of the Shanxi Military Region.
The General Staff and the General Political Departments had sent a Joint Military Inspection and Law Enforcement Team to the Region’s Entertainment Club. During the unexpected visit, the inspectors ordered some officers ‘having-good-time’ to show their IDs. The officers resisted and started to threaten the law enforcement staff, who had to fire warning shots. After it failed to scare the corrupt officers, the law enforcement team tried to arrest an officer, who was inciting the others. At that point in time, some of the corrupt officers attacked the inspectors with gunshots.
This shows that Xi’s task is not going to be easy.
What do these reforms mean for India?
First and foremost, corrupt and untrained Chinese defence forces will be fitter and better prepared for any eventuality, including a conflict with India.
Further, the Indian border will probably come under one MAC instead of two as today; it will greatly improve the efficiency of the Chinese ‘border’ forces.
When General Zhang Yang, a member of the CMC visited Ngari (Western Tibet) after ‘celebrating’ the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in early September, he was accompanied by Lt Gen Xu Yong, Commander of the Tibet Military District. It was particularly surprising as Ngari falls under the jurisdiction of the Lanzhou MAC, while General Xu is posted in the Chengdu MAC. Why was Xu in Ngari?
It probably means that the reorganization of the MACs has already started.
Militarily, it makes sense for China; it also implies that India has 5 years to be ready (with the new Mountain Strike Corps for example).
Another sign of the forthcoming changes
A few days later, Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee (No 4 in the Party) attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Accompanied by General Zhao Keshi, head of PLA's General Logistics Department, Yu visited the troops posted in the restive region.
Yu spoke of a 'protracted war' against terrorism. Reuters, quoting The PLA Daily, noted that the PLA in Xinjiang are at the ‘centre of the storm’ when it comes to fighting militants and separatists: “Their job is more than just fighting,” said the article, “pointing to the thousands of activities they have arranged in the last five years going into villages to ‘explain the party’s ethnic and religious policies ... and refute rumours.”
This could be one more reason why Beijing is thinking of bringing the entire Tibet and Xinjiang under the same MAC. It is however a fact that operational integration of complex and disparate systems across the command structure will be a major challenge.
In the past, regional level military commanders have enjoyed warlord-like status over their respective military region, making it difficult to exercise a centralized control which is today necessary …to win a war. This may change.
In any case, the ‘reforms’, even if they face difficulties, are a clear message to China’s neighbours: get ready!