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Reform to strengthen military

2013-11-28 13:22 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, passed by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, talks about three areas of military reform: reforming the leadership mechanism, optimizing the size and structure of the armed forces, and developing a more comprehensive education system to cultivate military talents.

While all the three areas of the intended reform reflect the CPC's determination to build a military that would meet China's strategic needs and follow global trends, the second one is of special importance. China may have the largest military (2.3 million strong) in the world but its structure needs to undergo reform to better meet the changing needs of national defense. And contrary to the "China military threat" theory, the largest military is the result of low level of military modernization and the country's large population.

Despite being large in size, the Chinese military ranks quite low compared with other countries in terms of representation vis-a-vis the total population. In China, only 17 out of every 10,000 people are part of the military, whereas the equation in the United States is 45 out of every 10,000 people. Even in Japan, which claims to have only self-defense forces because of its Pacifist Constitution, 19 out of every 10,000 people are part of the "military".

After the process to optimize the military structure is complete, the number of Chinese military personnel may gradually shrink. But the time needed to achieve modernization and equip the military with high technology will slow the process of reducing its number. Besides, it will not be an easy task to reduce the number of non-combat personnel given their involvement in a wide range of areas.

Given the size of China's military, it is important and urgent to optimize its structure. According to the country's 2013 White Paper on national defense, China now has 850,000 personnel serving in the army, 235,000 in the navy and 398,000 in the air force.

Obviously, this structure can neither meet China's strategic needs in the coming years nor support its global involvement. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a major power, China needs to participate in UN missions such as rescue and relief operations, and peacekeeping campaigns in other countries and offensives against global terrorists and pirates.

Such missions require China to strengthen its air force and navy. So even if the army is reduced in size, more funds and technology will be spent on increasing its mobility and fighting capability, and to elevate it to a level from where it can properly coordinate with militaries of other countries.

To strengthen China's strategic deterrence, the Second Artillery Force, the military's strategic missile force, is likely to be further strengthened. The country may invest more resources in other combat wings such as the special forces, airborne troops and marine corps to raise their capability to meet the increasing demands in different fields. It is even possible that some new forces specialized in outer space or cyberspace defense would be established.

The plenum also vowed to solve the problem of imbalanced ratio between officers and soldiers, combatants and non-combatants, and military and non-military personnel, which has been talked about by almost everyone in the military. The percentage of sergeants may be increased, while some non-combatant positions will be done away with to strengthen combatant positions. The number of entertainment personnel, too, is likely to be cut.

With the sort of regulations announced in recent years, China's military is expected to get a new and strengthened look in the near future. But optimizing the size and structure of military forces is a job that requires both bold and delicate handling. Although the reform is needed to better serve China's strategic interests, it will meet with difficulties because of the involvement of too many aspects.

If the reform proceeds as planned, China is expected to have a much better military structure, which, combined with advanced equipment and better command mechanisms, can safeguard national interests. China's military has been changing with the times and we expect it to be successful even this time in reforming itself.

The author is a senior advisor to China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee

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