by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 2, 2016
The official reorganization of China's military will enhance both its ability to win wars and the Communist Party's control over it, state-run media said Tuesday.
State broadcaster CCTV repeatedly showed footage of President Xi Jinping presenting flags to the officers leading five new theatre commands, down from seven military regions previously.
The reforms put the new commands under the direct control of the ruling party's Central Military Commission (CMC).
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is technically the armed force of the Communist Party, rather than the Chinese state.
Beijing has been building up its military for years, with regular double-digit increases in its official budget, as it pursues a more assertive stance towards neighbour Japan and in the South China Sea.
The latest changes are intended to help the country's armed forces become "prepared for combat and winning wars", said an editorial in the Global Times, a paper with close ties to the ruling Party.
"The more powerful the PLA grows and the more capable it is of engaging in a war, the country will embrace a peaceful rise all the more", it said.
"Otherwise the outside world will only consider that peace is... our compulsory choice", it added.
In a speech marking the occasion, Xi called on the military to "strictly obey political discipline and rules, and carry out their orders and instructions to the letter", said the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece.
Xi, who is chief of the Communist Party and also head of the military, has taken his anti-corruption campaign to the military's highest levels, prosecuting a number of generals, including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both formerly second in command of the CMC, for graft.
Most of the heads of the new theatre commands were previously commanders of one of the seven regions, but a military analyst quoted by the Global Times said the reshuffle will "strengthen the authority of the CMC's leadership by preventing cliques within the armed forces".
While the changes are intended to tighten party control over the country's military, they also come as China makes efforts to modernise and streamline its armed forces, which have suffered from bloat as well as widespread corruption.
Xi previously announced plans to slash China's troop numbers by 300,000 to roughly two million to craft a more efficient fighting force.
At the same time, the country has made a strong push to increase its military muscle, investing in an expanded fleet of submarines and its first indigenous aircraft carrier, as it seeks to build a navy capable of projecting power abroad.
The reforms have also included the establishment of a new PLA Rocket Force to oversee China's arsenal of strategic missiles, and an army general command headquarters for land forces.
US raps China on Hong Kong booksellers
The five, all affiliated with Hong Kong's Mighty Current publishing house which is known for salacious titles critical of Beijing leaders, disappeared in recent months and are feared to have been detained in mainland China.
"We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances and to allow them to return to their homes," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry Lu Kang said Tuesday it was "not proper" for the US to comment on China's domestic affairs.
"Hong Kong residents have been fully entitled to freedoms and rights in accordance with law" since the territory's return to China, he told a regular briefing.
Three of the five went missing in southern China. Another disappeared in Thailand and a fifth in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, raising fears Chinese authorities are extending their reach internationally.
Mainland law enforcers have no authority to operate in Hong Kong, where Lee Bo vanished on December 30.
Lee, who has a British passport, and Swede Gui Minhai, who vanished in Thailand, were both born in China and were rumoured to be preparing a tell-all book about the love life of President Xi Jinping.
Activists, local media and various politicians in Hong Kong have expressed concern that Lee may have been abducted from the city.
This would be a serious breach of the "One country, two systems" agreement under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 while retaining its own government and freedoms not available on the mainland.
Some of the former British colony's pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and residents believe mainland authorities are kidnapping critics to try to silence dissent.
Lawmakers from Britain and the European Union have also spoken out on the disappearances, with Sweden's foreign minister saying the treatment of its citizens was "completely unacceptable".
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