Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Army that we must watch out for

My article The Army that we must watch out for appeared in  the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

President Xi Jinping is faced with a daunting task to reform his Army. While he will have to face hurdles, India must get ready as Chinese defence forces will become fitter and better prepared for any eventuality

Chairman Xi, as the Chinese President is known in the defence circles in China (he chairs the all-powerful Central Military Commission), will face his most serious challenge in the weeks to come as he has undertaken to ‘reform’ the People’s Liberation Army.
On November 7, The People’s Daily carried a commentary calling on military authorities to win the ‘battle of military reforms’. It clearly means that the battle is not won. The Communist Party’s mouthpiece reiterated the party’s absolute leadership over the military and asked the Armed Forces “to remain consistent with the Central authorities’ decisions.”
One reform is to cut the troops by 300,000 by 2020.  The People’s Daily warned: “Senior leading departments and officials should play a guiding role in the process. They must back the Central authorities’ decisions and oppose political liberalism. They must not act on their own, gossip or make irresponsible remarks.”
Under the new rules, ‘PLA Inc’ will stop its song and dance troupes, 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.”
The Hong Kong daily cites the case of senior Naval officers sending warships abroad to smuggle home appliances and cars. This will change now.
Mr Xi has decided to shake up the PLA’s different branches by establishing a joint operational command structure for the land forces by year end and restructuring the seven Military Areas Commands into five combat or strategic zones.
The Jinan MAC, for example, is said to be ‘finishing its historical mission’; it would be dismantled along with the other MACs on December 20.  The South China Morning Post commented: “The restructure is part of Xi’s massive military overhaul, which aims to shift the PLA from an Army-centric system towards a Western-style joint command, in which the Army, Navy and Air Force are equally represented.”
Last month, in a long speech carried by Xinhua, Mr Xi gave a rather detailed report on the planned reforms. Mr 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 professionalise 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 the 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’. ‘Efficiency’ is clearly the new mantra.
It is obvious that if China wants to pick a fight with the US or Japan or even with its smaller neighbours, its Armed Forces need to be ready. Today, they are not.
Streamlining and downsising 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 Second Artillery Force (the strategic forces) will need to be re-balanced to take care of “the increasingly complicated global situation faced by the world’s largest rising power,” said The Global Times.
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!
The PLA Daily recently published a commentary: “Whether one gets to stay or is retired, officers and soldiers will inevitably have their own thoughts and may become unstable.”
It called for those who will lose their positions to “jump out of the box of self-interest …those with ulterior motives, officers and soldiers must maintain their ideological and political convictions.” It acknowledges that it will require that the high-level authorities and senior cadres provide the example.
It was also announced that a new branch of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection 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 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.
This shows that Mr 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 become 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.
Militarily, it makes sense for China; it also implies that India has a few years to be ready (with the new Mountain Strike Corps for example).  In the past, regional level military commanders have enjoyed warlord-like status over their respective military region, making it difficult to exercise a centralised control which is today necessary… to win a war. This may change.

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