China has unveiled its five new military zones or “theatre of commands”, continuing President Xi Jinping’s efforts to streamline the world’s largest armed force under a joint command system.
Xi’s latest step to reform China’s armed forces, announced by the defence ministry late on Monday night, comes as he continues to root out corruption in the military, and at a time when Beijing is getting more assertive in its maritime territorial disputes.
The five new zones have been designated as eastern, southern, western, northern and central command theatres. It appears the western theatre of command will now oversee India.
The new zones replace the three-decade-old seven regional commands named after the cities where they were headquartered: Beijing, Shenyang, Jinan, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu and Guangzhou.
Under the earlier structure, the Chengdu military area was in charge of security along India’s eastern sector in the Tibet region, including Arunachal Pradesh, and the Lanzhou military command looked after the western sector, including Jammu and Kashmir.
Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the seven regional commands were tied to the combat mode centred on ground forces, while the new system features joint operations and information capacity.
The reform of the armed forces began in September, when the president announced China would cut the number of troops by 300,000.
It is also being seen as an effort on Xi’s part to ensure that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remains completely under the control of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Military Commission (CMC), of which he is the chairperson.
The official media reported that at the end of December, the PLA Army Headquarters, PLA Rocket Force and PLA Strategic Support Force were set up.
Last month, the PLA’s central departments — staff, politics, logistics and armaments — were dismantled and their functions and duties reassigned to 15 new agencies under the CMC.
“The principle of a newly implemented structure, in which the CMC takes charge of the overall military administration, theatre commands focus on combat and the different military branches pursue their own development, must be resolutely observed,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official media while announcing the changes.
Xi said the five theatre commands are responsible for dealing with “security threats in their respective strategic scopes, maintaining peace, containing wars and winning wars, noting their pivotal role in safeguarding the country’s overall national security and military strategies”.
China’s military reform is aimed at establishing a three-tier – “the CMC-theatre commands-troops” – command system and an administration system that goes from the CMC through various services to the troops, the official media reported.