(EastAsiaForum) China’s military modernization began long before Xi Jinping became chairman of the Central Military Commission in November 2012. But the pace and scope of that effort has greatly accelerated under him.
Chairman Deng Xiaoping, focused on reviving the economy, famously relegated the military to the last of the ‘four modernisations’. Beginning with Jiang Zemin (1989–2004), the PLA pivoted towards deterrence and preparations for ‘local wars’ against regional opponents.
Xi’s arrival heralded an acceleration of modernisation and solutions to problems that had confounded his predecessors.
Through stronger collaboration with the civilian science and technology community, the PLA also put greater emphasis on new capabilities: artificial intelligence, quantum computing and big data. This reflected a shift to what the PLA terms the ‘intelligentisation’ of the modern battlefield.
Xi used his influence to push through controversial changes that ultimately benefited the PLA’s operational effectiveness. The top-heavy command arrangement modelled on the Soviet military of the 1950s was replaced by a modern structure more like the current US joint command system.
The creation of two support forces complemented these new arrangements. The Strategic Support Force consolidated PLA capabilities in the space, cyber, electronic warfare and psychological warfare arenas. This development gives the PLA a powerful tool to pursue operations in the information domain. A new Joint Logistic Support Force created a more centralised and efficient structure for logistics support for operational commanders.
In 2020, Chinese officials designated 2027 — the centennial anniversary of the PLA — as the year in which China will field a ‘fully modern military’.
This involves the introduction of big-ticket items, including additional aircraft carriers and a redesigned long-range bomber. China will also continue to research, develop and incorporate innovative technology into the PLA’s force structure, and to recruit personnel with the know-how to operate them.