China’s marine corps will have more training in joint operations to bolster combat strength as the country’s security risks increase at home and abroad, according to military analysts.
The assessment came after Chinese President Xi Jinping told troops in the southern city of Chaozhou on Tuesday that the corps needed to strengthen its goals to fit in with the People’s Liberation Army’s modernisation drive.
“The marines should come up with road maps with the goals, direction, path and focus of team building,” Xi told senior officers.
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Military observers said Xi’s remarks indicated that he was not happy with the progress of the amphibious wing of the armed forces.
Under Beijing’s plans, the marines would be at the forefront of any plans to “reunify Taiwan with the mainland” by force.
But the corps is also taking more responsibility to defend China’s interests in the region as Beijing extends its global reach.
In July 2017, China started sending marines to Djibouti a few months after the special combat force was formally expanded and reorganised amid Xi’s military reforms.
“Conducting amphibious operations in the Taiwan reunification plan is just one of the missions of the marine corps,” Beijing-based naval specialist Li Jie said.
Li said these other responsibilities included safeguarding China’s outposts in the East and South China seas.
“The marine corps needs to step up its modern warfare programme, not only in terms of size but also in terms of hardware and software upgrades,” he said.
The marine corps is the only wing of the Chinese armed forces that has continued to expand during Xi’s massive military overhaul.
Military insiders have estimated that China plans to increase the number of troops from about 20,000 in 2017 to 100,000. But so far there are about 40,000 marines, according to US-based think tank, the Jamestown Foundation.
China is also expanding its fleet of Type 071 amphibious transport docks and other vessels. Its Type 075 helicopter landing ships started sea trials in August and a more powerful amphibious assault ship, the Type 076, is in the planning stages.
But the hardware is no match for the United States, according to Li.
“Both the Type 071 and Type 075 are not as advanced as the US Marine Corps’ Wasp-class landing helicopter docks, because they have F-35B Lightning stealth fighters, while China still does not have any ship-borne stealth helicopters,” Li said.
Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore‘s Nanyang Technological University, said the rapid development of China’s marines indicated that Beijing’s long-term goal was to develop an expeditionary force that could further afield as China’s global interests grew.
“There’s increased demands on the marine corps, with an expanding set of missions in peace and wartime,” Koh said.
“But the corps still has a long way to go in being able to conduct integrated operations with the same finesse as the US Marine Corps, which still has the advantage in terms of its combat experience across the globe.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Xi Jinping tells marines to focus on ‘preparing to go to war’ in military base visit during southern China tour
- Chinese military mounts live-fire test of new anti-tank missile in ‘Taiwan drill’
- Chinese President Xi Jinping starts southern tour with call to have confidence in future
- Mainland China deploys more amphibious weapons along coast in Taiwan mission
This article China’s marine corps on notice to boost combat strength, analyst says first appeared on South China Morning Post