China says reforms have made military more nimble

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s military is more nimble and technologically proficient following reforms to make it more compact and responsive, rather than just relying on strength of numbers, state media on Tuesday cited President Xi Jinping as saying.

China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, are in the midst of an ambitious modernisation programme, from restructuring to troop cuts and investment in technology and equipment upgrades, such as acquiring stealth fighters and aircraft carriers.

Speaking to the ruling Communist Party’s elite Politburo, Xi called for all-out efforts to drive military reform, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“After the reforms, our military’s scale is smaller, but it is more capable, its structure is more optimised, its formation more scientific,” the report paraphrased Xi, who is head of the military, as saying.

This has changed the model of the armed forces, which once depended for victory on strength of numbers, but are now making great strides to becoming a high-quality, effective and technologically proficient military, Xi added.

China’s military has not fought a war in decades and the government insists it has no hostile intent, simply needing the ability to properly defend what is now the world’s second-largest economy.

But China has rattled nerves around the Asian region with its increasingly assertive stance in the East and South China Seas and its military equipment modernisation plan.

Xi, who made the comments ahead of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army on Aug. 1, called the reforms unprecedented in the history of Communist China.

“A strong military is an important strategic prop for a strong country, and is also an important strategic mission for our party,” Xi said.

The reforms have not been uncontroversial, with unease in particular about the 300,000 troop cuts Xi announced in 2015.

Xi appeared to allude to those cuts by saying government officials must “make every effort to help officers and soldiers resolve worries about the future consequences”.

The report did not elaborate.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez