RESHAPING THE CHINESE MILITARY: The PLA's Roles and Missions in the Xi Jinping Era
Editors: Richard A. Bitzinger and James Char
Published by: Routledge, London, 2019, 253pp, US$271.
The title of this impressive collection of essays raises two questions: first, how and why has President Xi Jinping reshaped the PLA, and second, what role is the PLA expected to play in coming years? Each chapter provides answers inasmuch as their topics include Xi's anti-corruption campaign, China's Taiwan policy, tensions in the South China Sea, relations with the United States, Party-military relations, space operations, the defence technology base and the defence-industry complex. This reviewer offers a few broad summaries while referring readers to the rich detail of these well-crafted and conscientiously source-noted essays.
Xi Jinping began his reform initiative only after the 18th Party Congress in 2012 confirmed him as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, adding that authority to his other two leadership positions of chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and president of the People's Republic of China. His power consolidated, Xi then inaugurated a sweeping anti-corruption campaign as an instrument of reform. This allowed him to retire or fire conservative generals and to promote younger officers sympathetic to his wider aims.
Xi's aims were to improve the military's ability to reinforce China's increasingly extensive diplomatic and economic outreach and to achieve 'a new type of great power relations', that is, parity with, and respect by, the United States and its allies. Deterring the United States and Japan through the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, and also exerting pressure on Taiwan and militarising artificial islets in the South China Sea, were ancillary aims to more ambitious ends. Xi also moved to strengthen the Navy and Air Force to the relative neglect of the Army, traditionally the senior service, and to build up distinct commands for cyber and space operations.
The role of the PLA, the authors contend, has been reduced from a co-decision-maker to a technical advisor and implementer. Xi and the Party are now in firm...