Xi Pushes Army Reform Amid Fresh Sparks With Japan

As China and Japan trade accusations over close encounters above the East China Sea, The New York Times’ Jane Perlez and Chris Buckley describe the latest calls by Xi Jinping to modernize and refocus China’s military. The PLA, they write, has resisted past efforts to remold it from a counter-Soviet land behemoth to a nimbler force emphasizing naval and aerial conflict. But while military corruption has also undermined modernization, it may offer Xi the lever he needs to overcome these vested interests.

Mr. Xi wants a military that can project power across the Pacific and face regional rivals like Japan in defense of Chinese interests. To get it, he means to strengthen China’s naval and air forces, which have been subordinate to the People’s Liberation Army’s land forces, and to get the military branches to work in close coordination, the way advanced Western militaries do.

[…] It will not be easy. Reorganizing the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., will pit Mr. Xi’s ambitions against the entrenched power of the land forces, with about 1.4 million troops, and he will have to manage the overhaul while ensuring that the military remains a reliable guardian of the Communist Party’s hold on political power, experts said.

[…] Mr. Xi’s efforts may be helped by the impending trial of Gu Junshan, a general whose charge sheet reads like a list of the army’s most flagrant corruption problems. Mr. Kamphausen of the National Bureau of Asian Research said the selling of promotions became so widespread that General Gu’s case appeared to be an especially lurid example of widespread graft.

Now, by campaigning against corruption, Mr. Xi has military commanders “so scared, they can’t even park their cars in a restaurant parking lot — they send the driver somewhere else,” Mr. Saunders said. [Source]

Assessing the current and future strength of China’s military is no easy task. Kyle Mizokami recently explored much of the same ground as Perlez and Buckley at War Is Boring, arguing that inflation, corruption—particularly the selling of ranks—and regional, technical and demographic challenges make China’s armed forces “a paper dragon”. At The National Interest, on the other hand, Timothy A. Walton warned that their progress has consistently and dramatically outpaced U.S. predictions.