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Politics

China embarks on major military restructuring

BEIJING -- China will overhaul the structure of its military, streamlining leadership and shifting focus from the army to other branches. The country aims to make its forces more responsive to emerging threats as the global military landscape shifts.

     In an address ahead of last Thursday's military parade, President Xi Jinping announced plans to cut 300,000 troops by the end of 2017 -- the first in a number of reforms that gained broad approval in the lead-up to the day's events, party sources say. The cuts will mainly affect the army -- which has 1.6 million troops for 70% of China's total -- as well as non-combat departments in charge of arts and culture.

     China's armed police force, chiefly responsible for keeping social order, will be reorganized and renamed. Units in charge of border protection and other duties will be transferred to the State Council. The resulting savings on personnel costs will be put toward the development of cutting-edge missiles, armed vehicles and other military technology.

     Beijing will also raise soldiers' compensation as it shaves troop numbers, seeking to boost morale and tamp down spreading dissatisfaction with the Xi government's anti-corruption efforts.

Structural shakeup

Four central departments -- logistics, staff, political and armaments -- control the military's operations. China's army, navy, air force and second artillery force each have distinct chains of command beneath those agencies. Operational authority for ground forces is further divided among seven area commands covering the country.

     Under the coming reforms, several inland area commands will be merged, leaving four or five. Newly freed-up funds will be sent to districts along China's coast. Each area will also see a central command installed to manage ground, naval, air and missile operations, de-emphasizing the current central role of the army.

     The four central general administrative departments may be reorganized, with commanding authority over all of the military's branches centralized in a new organization. A new branch handling military operations in space could also be formed.

Fueled by political victory

Xi first proposed reorganizing China's military in November 2013, including staff cuts and further centralization of operations. But many objected that reorganizing the byzantine chains of authority running between the four general administrative bodies and authorities in each area would be too difficult. The renewed push for reform hints that Xi's grip on power is growing as the president's fight against corruption continues.

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