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    Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on Military, Aims for Supremacy with Major Reforms

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    Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on Military, Aims for Supremacy with Major Reforms
    • June 24, 2024 • 28 days ago
    in summary
    Chinese President Xi Jinping is tightening his control over the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) through significant military reforms aimed at addressing deep-seated issues. Despite showcasing military strength, particularly around Taiwan, Xi has expressed dissatisfaction with the PLA's current structure and capabilities. The recent elimination of the Strategic Support Force, an elite unit focusing on space and cyber warfare, highlights Xi's resolve to modernize the military. This reorganization, alongside widespread purges and corruption probes within the military, underscores Xis ambition to surpass the United States militarily and solidify China's regional and global power.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping has embarked on a sweeping overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), signaling his intent to bolster China’s military prowess and tighten his control over the armed forces. This move comes amid escalating tensions with Taiwan and growing competition with the United States for global military dominance.

    Xi’s recent comments at a military conference highlighted “deep-seated problems” within the PLA, underscoring the need for comprehensive reforms. This declaration was followed by the most extensive reorganization of China’s military in nearly a decade. The reforms are aimed at addressing inefficiencies and enhancing the PLA’s capabilities to meet modern warfare demands.

    A significant and unexpected aspect of this restructuring was the dissolution of the Strategic Support Force (SSF). Established during the last major military overhaul in 2015, the SSF was tasked with advancing China’s capabilities in space and cyber warfare and improving data sharing across military branches. However, the SSF’s progress was deemed insufficient, prompting Xi to redistribute its functions into separate divisions under the direct supervision of the Central Military Commission, which he chairs.

    In recent months, China has demonstrated its military might, particularly in relation to Taiwan. Following the inauguration of Taiwan’s government, Chinese armed forces conducted extensive drills around the island, showcasing their capabilities. This included an animated video by Chinese state media depicting missile strikes on major Taiwanese cities, a stark reminder of Beijing’s claim over Taiwan and its readiness to use force if necessary.

    Taiwan’s information sphere has also been targeted by coordinated cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, highlighting the multifaceted nature of China’s strategy towards the democratic island. These actions are part of Beijing’s broader objective to project its military strength and deter any moves towards Taiwanese independence.

    The recent military reorganization has been accompanied by what is described as the largest purge in Chinese military history. High-ranking officials, including those from the elite Rocket Force, which oversees China’s nuclear and tactical missiles, have been removed or have disappeared from public view. This purge has even reached senior figures like former defense minister Li Shuangfu, emphasizing the extent of the internal shake-up.

    Xi Jinping presenting a flag to the information support force of the Chinese army when it was established in April  [Li Gang/Xinhua via EPA]
    Xi Jinping presenting a flag to the information support force of the Chinese army when it was established.

    These purges reflect Xi’s ruthless adaptability and his willingness to recalibrate his approach to maintain control. Despite the political risks, Xi’s actions signal a determination to eliminate structures and individuals that do not align with his strategic vision, regardless of their past contributions.

    Xi’s reforms are seen as part of a broader strategy to position China as a dominant global military power, rivaling the United States. The launch of China’s most advanced aircraft carrier from Shanghai underscores the growing capabilities of the Chinese navy, which now ranks second only to the U.S. in the number of aircraft carriers.

    China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait has further strained relations with the United States, which has accused Beijing of threatening regional peace. Conversely, Beijing accuses Washington of meddling in Asian affairs.

    Despite these ambitious reforms, questions remain about the PLA’s readiness and the effectiveness of Xi’s changes. Analysts like Yang Zi from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Christina Chen from the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) point out that the ongoing emphasis on political work and loyalty to Xi might detract from crucial military training and operational readiness.

    Xi’s determination to overhaul the PLA reflects his long-term goal of surpassing the United States militarily and making China the leading military power globally. Whether these changes will ultimately enhance the PLA’s combat capabilities remains to be seen, but Xi’s actions underscore his commitment to reshaping China’s military for the challenges of modern warfare.

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