Citing China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Bloomberg News reports on Nov. 26, 2015 that at the end of a three-day meeting in Beijing attended by about 200 top Chinese military officials, President Xi Jinping Xi announced a major overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest army, to make it more combat ready (“an elite combat force”) and better equipped to project force beyond China’s borders by 2020.
Upon taking power in 2012, Xi also became chairman of the Central Military Commission. He is directly managing the overhaul.
“This is the biggest military overhaul since the 1950s,” said Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department. “The reform shakes the very foundations of China’s Soviet Union-style military system and transferring to a U.S. style joint command structure will transform China’s PLA into a specialized armed force that could pack more of a punch in the world.”
The overhaul of the PLA will include:
- All branches of the PLA would come under a joint military or forces command. In its annual report to the U.S. Congress in May, the Pentagon said creating joint-command entities “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949.”
- China’s seven military regions may be merged into four. (The PLA’s last major overhaul — carried out under Deng Xiaoping in 1985 — had reduced the number of military regions to 7 from 11.)
- The PLA will be leaner by shedding 300,000 troops. (The reform of 1985 reduced the PLA by some 1 million soldiers.)
- Stronger top leader: Yue said “The reform enhanced the power of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and its chairman [Xi Jinping] . . . as the former CMC chairman had little real power over the armed forces.” Xi Jinping has made the military one of the targets of his anti-corruption campaign as he consolidates his power over the PLA. Two former CMC vice-chairman were both expelled from the party since Xi took power in 2012, as were dozens of generals accused of everything from embezzling public funds to selling ranks.
- Strengthen the Communist Party’s grip on the military by building a new disciplinary structure and a new legal and political committee to make sure the army is under “the rule of law”.
Under Xi, China has been more assertive over territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, raising tensions with neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as with the United States. In the South China Sea, the PLA is constructing artificial islands with military installations. Xi’s policy marks a shift from China’s previous approach under Deng Xiaoping of keeping a low profile and not attracting attention on the world stage.
The overhaul of the Chinese military into “an elite combat force” also includes armed attack robots.
As reported by Neil Connor for The Telegraph, Nov. 26, 2015, “armed attack” robots that carry rifles and grenade launchers were recently unveiled at the 2015 World Robot Conference in Beijing. China’s state media called the robots the latest line of defense in the fight against “global terror”.
Xinhua news agency said the toy-sized attacker is one of a trio of new “anti-terror” machines that “can coordinate with each other on the battlefield.”
The first model is known as a “reconnaissance” robot, which scouts for poisonous gases, dangerous chemicals and explosives before transmitting its findings back to base. If this initial investigation detects a simple bomb is the source of danger, the second robot model – a small explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) machine – would be sent in to diffuse it.
But with other, more complicated threats, an attacker robot would start its mission, armed with “minor-caliber weapons, recoilless rifles and grenade launchers”. Xinhua said, “With a sighting telescope, a trigger and a safe installed, the attacker can hit its target from a long distance.”
The local police force in Beijing was reported to be among the buyers for the three robots, which are priced at 1.5 million yuan (£156,000) for the set by manufacturers HIT Robot Group, based in the northern city of Harbin. The company’s sales manager Chen Deqiang said, “Apart from anti-terror operations, they can also be applied in fire fighting, public security, forestry and agriculture.”