Xi’s profound changes to the PLA on display
It was the first time a large-scale parade had been staged as part of commemorations to mark the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, which celebrates its 90th birthday on Tuesday. It was the first time a parade of such scale and importance has been held in the field. It was the first time President and PLA commander-inchief Xi Jinping was seen in PLA fatigues on an occasion like this. It was the first time some of the PLA’s new weapons made their media debut.
All these firsts occurred on Sunday at Zhurihe in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, which is the PLA’s largest and most sophisticated combined tactics training base.
That the show was staged at the once mysterious Zhurihe, a training base devoted specifically to drills in simulated combat environments, where the PLA’s latest weapons along with its latest tactics and methods of operation are tested, was not only further proof that the PLA is embracing greater transparency but also a sign of its greater self-confidence.
China’s past experience of being ravaged by foreign powers has cultivated in Xi an acute awareness of the nation’s need for a strong, capable military.
Although to some scrutinizing it from a different perspective it may have sent a divergent message, as Xi told the PLA troops on parade on Sunday, the country needs a strong military “more than ever” as the world is far from tranquil, and the country’s peace needs to be guarded.
And certainly, above all, Sunday’s parade was a review of the military reform Xi has masterminded and presided over.
Barely a year after he assumed leadership of the Communist Party of China in 2012, Xi incorporated national defense and military reform into the country’s comprehensive reform plans. For the first time in history, national defense and military reform were written into the resolutions of a CPC plenum as an independent section.
Two years later, Xi officially inaugurated the ongoing reforms amid a high-profile anti-corruption campaign within the PLA. An overall plan was announced in July, followed by a 300,000 cut in PLA troops in September and an implementation plan for command system reform in October.
Since then, the PLA has realized a profound change in structure and strategic thinking.
The formations at the Sunday parade were reportedly structured in combat groupings to reflect the PLA’s new emphasis on joint operations, echoing Xi’s idea that combat effectiveness is the fundamental gauge for the military, and demonstrating that the PLA is getting closer to what Xi envisions as a leaner, more capable, world-class modern military.