President Xi Jinping has called on China’s top military brass to push forward the PLA’s modernisation by making “comprehensive and overall improvements” to training amid growing security challenges at home and abroad.
Analysts said it was the latest indication that China’s military focus was shifting to training and command, integrating advanced weapons and equipment, as it seeks to turn the People’s Liberation Army into a modern fighting force.
“There have been changes happening in China in national security, military struggles, missions, modern warfare patterns, as well as in the goals of defence and military modernisation,” Xi, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, told senior commanders at a conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
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“Military training has entered a new stage of all-around change, and it needs comprehensive and overall improvements. Strategic planning and design from the top level needs to be enhanced to push forward and transform military training,” he said.
Xi’s speech came after the CMC issued new training guidelines that took effect on November 7. State news agency Xinhua said they were aimed at improving integration and joint operations across the PLA, and also highlighted the use of cutting-edge weapon systems.
Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a regular press briefing on Thursday the guidelines were aimed at “responding to major changes … including global hegemony, power politics and unilateralism” and developments in modern warfare.
Details were not released, but according to a military insider more than 70 per cent of the new guidelines were based on those used by the United States military for its joint operations.
China’s ruling Communist Party wants the PLA to be a modernised force by 2027, and a world-class military by 2050.
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said Xi’s remarks aimed to push PLA commanders to strengthen combat training and get troops used to hi-tech weapons and equipment including advanced tanks, aircraft and warships.
“China is facing a number of challenges both at home and overseas – for example, the situation in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, the border with India,” Zhou said. “These situations have been changing in recent years, and China’s top commanders need to come up with forward-looking, strategic training plans so the troops are combat-ready.”
He also said that more than 30 per cent of frontline personnel were university educated and had better hi-tech knowledge than many of the senior PLA commanders.
“This has pushed the top leadership to upgrade their own modern warfare strategies,” he said.
Increasing US military activity near Taiwan had also put pressure on the PLA to improve training, according to Zhou.
That view was echoed by Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang, who said escalating China-US tensions over the South China Sea, which had seen the US stepping up surveillance operations, posed a threat to the PLA.
“As well as the US challenge, the recent border skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia where drones have been deployed will be a lesson for the PLA on what modern warfare looks like,” Liang said.
“It’s well-known that the PLA has a lot of new weapons, including the new-generation J-20 stealth fighter jets and drones, but it’s still not clear whether these ‘new toys’ have already been integrated with the military’s routine training.”
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