03 May 2017

News Report: China Seeks to Transform Army as Military Tensions Grow on Korean Peninsula

Beijing has announced plans to reorganize the People's Liberation Army (PLA), amid growing fears China's Armed Forces - the world's biggest - might not be able to handle a major conflict if it broke out on the Korean Peninsula.

China's armed forces have not been involved in military action for years and, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump increasingly butting heads, frantic efforts are being made to knock the country's army into shape.

The Central Military Commission has announced plans to whittle down the People's Liberation Army Ground Forces from 18 to 13 corps.

Senior Colonel Yang Yujun said the move was part of "an overall reshaping" of the country's mobile operational forces.

"It is a critical step forward in building a strong and modern army, and it is of great significance in transforming the Chinese military from featuring quantity and scale to featuring quality and effectiveness," he said.

The new corps will be the 71st through 83rd corps.

China has been preoccupied with upgrading its navy and at the of April launched the first aircraft carrier to be built in China.

But now the Ministry of National Defense in Beijing wants to transform the focus of the army from quantity to quality. There are currently more than two million soldiers in the PLA but there have been doubts about the quality of some of the recruits.

In 2015 a US Congressional study claimed the PLA was weakened by corruption and overt political control, which sometimes undermined the military expertise of officers.

The report, by China experts at the Rand Corporation, said the PLA was "clearly becoming an increasingly professional and capable fighting force."

But it added: "We have found that the PLA suffers from potentially serious weaknesses. These shortcomings could limit its ability to successfully conduct the information-centric, integrated joint operations Chinese military strategists see as required to fight and win future wars."

The PLA was founded in 1927 and spent 20 years as a guerrilla army as the Chinese communists fought their rivals, the Kuomintang (KMT), and later Japanese occupying forces.

After World War II the PLA defeated the KMT — who were forced to seek sanctuary in Taiwan — and the following year they marched into Tibet, folding the nominally independent Buddhist state into the new People's Republic of China. 

The PLA was then involved in the Korean War. In late 1950, with US and South Korean forces within sight of the Chinese border, Mao Zedong ordered units to cross the border in support of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Eventually the Chinese pushed back the American-backed South Koreans to the 39th parallel where the conflict ground to a halt. But, apart from a border war with Vietnam in 1979, which lasted for 27 days, the PLA has not fired a shot in anger outside of China's borders since 1953.

In 1989, the PLA was used to put down the Tiananmen Square uprising and it has occasionally been used in Xinjiang state to suppress ethnic Muslim Uighur rebels and support Han Chinese settlers. Drones are being used to keep track of terrorists from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement who are threatening Xinjiang.

Tensions in Korea have grown to alarming levels since Trump became president in January.

This week US Forces Korea spokesman Col. Rob Manning said the THAAD missile defense system was operational. But Chinese missile expert Yang Chengjun said THAAD was a serious threat to China and urged Beijing to make military preparations for various contingencies.

Yang told the Global Times last week, he believed THAAD had actually been deployed to threaten northern and eastern China as well as Russia's Far East and North Korea was just a Trojan horse.

He said China should offer a military response, such as enhancing its X-band radar defense and strengthening its deployments in north-east China. 

This area, once known as Manchuria, was once a Japanese colony and it could be the touchpoint for the next world conflict.

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.