It's the world's biggest army, and is aiming to become the best. China's military forces are shaping up under Xi Jinping's leadership.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China will continue its reforms to become a world-class fighting force in the next three decades. Xi, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the announcement during his report to the 19th CPC National Congress.[Special Coverage]
New military goals
What's behind Xi's latest directive of making the army top class? To answer this question, we need to look at the big picture of national strategy.
From Xi's report, we can get a clearer clue of what's behind the shifting targets in the decision-making. Xi stressed that China has entered a New Era, marked by many changes, like the national strategic goal upgrade from becoming a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, to a strong modernized nation by 2050. The military, which is a key symbol for rejuvenation, must be strong.
Xi's latest remarks announced the PLA's new targets through further deepening reforms. This could be a turning point for the army's development. Xi used to say reform aims to build an army that can win a war. But now he wants deeper and more effective reforms. The PLA is aiming to become the best army all around, not only in size or structure.
But setting goals is only the beginning. Much need to be done to achieve them.
"To build a strong army by science and technology is Xi's major strategic decision, based on examination on the world's military development, and the requirements of information warfare," said Sr. Colonel Ye Xiongbing from the PLA Academy of Military Science.
Reforms will deepen
We know the army has reshuffled its decades-old military command system, which was based on land forces, into one that is joint operational, with special emphasis on naval and air forces in the blue sea and deep space, to win in potential information warfare.
Ever since Xi took office five years ago, the army's anti-corruption efforts have been intensified, aiming to send money to where it's badly needed.
We've noticed a growing number of new faces and young faces rising among the commanding posts. We've also witnessed a large number of technological breakthroughs in weaponry, including the water test of the second aircraft carrier and the flights of stealth fighters. Many experts believe this new round of reform will transform the army and the regional security landscape.
"The reforms have granted the command rights of the joint operations to the Theater Commands, while giving the different armed forces rights of management and training. It's a fundamental system upgrade," said Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai, Commander of China's Southern Theater Command. Yuan is also a delegate to the 19th CPC National Congress.
Military undergoes thorough transformation
I've been covering military topics for over a decade, and I got some rare chances to touch a number of new armaments, like the new generation aircraft, bombers, early warning planes, aircraft carriers and submarines. I also had the privilege of meeting soldiers and commanders at different levels. I feel the deep transformation in the army, with growing strength, changing concept and rising confidence.
The experience of covering the military parades and drills on the sea provided me with some better understanding of the army's strength and its limitations. It's been decades since Chinese armed forces faced actual military conflict, and those parades and trainings being reported provides only a glimpse of their routine practice. The true value of the PLA reforms for the overall capabilities is just beginning to be felt.
Xi's speech at the congress is a big boost for deepening reforms, and its actual impact on the army's transformation will be closely watched for a long time.