Friday, July 31, 2009

Global Times rebuts again.

During the past few weeks, the Chinese internet was buzzing with speculation of a major military reorganization. Rumored organizational changes include merging of the existing seven military regions into four strategic zones, removal of the Senior Colonel rank, increasing the personnel of both the navy and the air force by 20,000 while downsizing the army by as much as 800,000. The reduction of military regions has been suggested from time-to-time since the late 1990s, for example, You Ji’s “The Armed Force of China” also discussed the strategic implication of reorganizing the existing seven military regions into strategic zones. While good arguments were made for such reform, the key point remains very simple -- is the CMC doing it?

I generally reserve a “stop-and-wait” attitude on topics related to the PLA, China, or whatever my wife may “cook” for dinner; it is positive to see Global Times taking a more active role in clarifying speculation so we don’t have to wait too long.

Military reshuffle not likely: analysts

* Source: Global Times
* [07:19 July 31 2009]
* Comments

By Kang Juan

Chinese experts yesterday refuted a report that the country's seven military command regions would be reshuffled into four “strategic zones,” saying the major reform remains at the discussion level because of impracticality and concerns of national stability.

The latest issue of The Mirror, a Hong Kong-based journal, reported that the Chinese military is preparing to reform the system of military regions, as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) marks its 82nd anniversary tomorrow.

According to an unnamed military source, the seven current military regions of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu will be replaced with four strategic zones in the north, east, west and south, the report said.

Each strategic zone would be under the command of a military commission, formed by a joint command of different armed forces and several provincial secretaries in the zone, the source said, adding that the heads of the four military commissions would be assigned by the central authority in Beijing, responsible for the military actions and defense mobilization in the zones under their jurisdiction.

However, a military source who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times that it was impossible for the Chinese military to carry out such a major reform this year, as maintaining stability is the top priority.

“The main tasks for the Chinese military so far are to maintain stability along the borders and prepare for the military parade on National Day in October,” he said. “Whether and how to carry out the military reform has been discussed among the academics for almost 30 years, but no answers have been reached yet.”

Li Daguang, a military expert at the University of National Defense, ruled out the possibility of any immediate adjustment in the allocation of military regions.

“Relevant discussions have been ongoing for several years. But none of the proposals are mature enough,” Li told the Global Times, citing the complexity of reforming the system.

“The existing system has been in accordance with the national defense situation of China, which pursues a national defense policy that is purely defensive in nature,” Li argued.

The 2.3 million-strong PLA, under the top command of the Central Military Commission, oversees seven military regions nationwide as administrative headquarters responsible for making plans for troop development, commanding joint operations of different armed forces and guaranteeing joint logistics in several provinces.

Chen Zhou, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, noted that the division of China's military regions is based on administrative divisions, geographic locations, directions of strategic campaign and combat missions.

“The allocation of military regions usually changes with the troops' development and domestic and external environments,” Chen noted.

In private talks, military personnel were often heard talking about the urgency of a reform, as the current divide of seven military regions “appears to be redundant,” and “not up to the demand of modern military mobilization or deployment.”

The views were reflected in heated discussions among military aficionados on the Internet. A Web user wrote on a military forum that the army has been the main decision power in each military region, while the navy and air forces were always sidelined, which the user said isn't good for the military modernization of China.

Some Web users also doubted the efficiency of the division system, as the coordination among several regions is quite inconvenient.

However, military insiders told the Global Times that a major reform is hard to formulate, as the combination of some regions will mean the move of too many personnel and facilities, which might cause problems.

There have been several adjustments in the division of military regions since the foundation of the People's Republic of China.

Originally, six military regions were established in 1950. That number rose to 13 in the late 1950s and was reduced to 11 in 1968. Mao Zedong, the former leader of China, decided to exchange the positions of commanders in eight military regions in 1973. The current divide of seven regions dates back to 1985 when the country initiated a major demobilization of a million servicemen.

In another development, the official bilingual website of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is expected to launch tomorrow, on the Chinese Army's 82nd birthday. The site is meant to be a channel for China to express and elaborate its military policy and release information of activities.

Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the US forces in the Pacific region, praised the move Tuesday.

“This goes with our desire for more transparency and better understanding of Chinese military intentions,” Keating said.

On Tuesday, the military also offered 90 foreign journalists a visit to its Third Guard Division, a motorized infantry force that safeguards Beijing. The move was interpreted by Reuters as China's military cautiously trying out new openness.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, a senior military expert at the University of National Defense, said the army is displaying increased confidence, transparency and openness by a series of military exchanges and diplomatic activities.

“It is conducive for China to convey its message of peaceful development and gradually dispel concerns about its military intentions from its Asian neighbors and Washington,” Yang said.

Qiu Wei and Liang Chen contributed to this story

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