China's People's Liberation Army is set for a roller coaster ride as the government announced a major revamp of the armed forces that targets to put the country's fighting forces on par with the best in the West. The restructure will see the existing seven military commands to be regrouped into four strategic zones.
The announcement was formally announced at a plenary session of the leading group for national defence and military reform under the Central Military Commission. The session was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and top leaders from the PLA's four headquarters, seven key military commands, navy, air force, missile corps and armed police.
Sources close to the PLA told the South China Morning Post that Xi, who is also the CMC chairman, had urged the military leaders to comply with what is expected to be a long and extensive restructuring. "It's a long-anticipated overhaul for grass-root soldiers because it's a practical push to turn the PLA into a real modern army of international standard," one of the sources said.
"However, it's also a setback for some senior officials who lost out in the reform. That's why Xi has ordered them to obey," the source added.
The revamp that will see the PLA phasing out its Soviet-style command structures in favour of a US-style model, will see some major job losses and three of the seven commands being scrapped. The move is to transform the world's biggest army into a nimble, modern force on par with the best of the West.
Xi had announced in September that the army would be streamlined to two million personnel, with a total of 300,000 troops to leave their posts. The cuts will also result in 170,000 military officials losing their jobs.
Needless to say the move has not gone done well with some in the PLA. Last Thursday, the PLA Daily published a commentary by two officials from the PLA National Defence University's department of strategic education and research, warning that the reform could destabilise the armed services if it failed to deal with salaries and pensions.
Some in the PLA unhappy with proposals
Several state-owned media outlets published the commentary on their websites but the posts were later removed, South China Morning Post reported. Hong Kong-based military observer Liang Guoliang told the newspaper that Xi had to get the reform moving because it has been under study for more than a decade.
"Xi's 'One Belt One Road' initiatives need a real strong blue-water navy to protect China's maritime lifelines and its expanding overseas interests. But the command structure of today's PLA is focused on land forces and does not have what it takes to meet those needs," Liang said.
In addition to that announced, another PLA source told the newspaper that there will also be a restructure of the military's nerve centre. The military has four existing headquarters - General Staff, General Political, General Logistics and General Armaments departments.
Of the four, only the General Staff would continue to function as it does currently. The other three would be absorbed by the General Staff Department and the Ministry of National Defence.