By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's army will get a more prominent role under military reform proposals announced this week and there will also be more help for those who lose their jobs as a result of the changes, the Defense Ministry said on Friday.
President Xi Jinping unveiled a broad-brush outline of the reforms this week, seeking further modernization of the command structure of the world's largest armed forces to better enable it to win a modern war.
Xi is determined to modernize the military at the same time as China becomes more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China's navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers, while the air force is developing stealth fighters.
His reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000.
Spokesman Yang Yujun shed a little more light on the reforms in a statement carried on the ministry's website, saying an army leadership mechanism would be set up to centralize a command structure previously shared by four departments, including those responsible for logistics and politics.
"The army is an important force in our military," Yang said. "The setting up of this army mechanism will benefit ... raising management efficiency and accelerate military modernization."
China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but integration of complex systems across a regionalized command structure is a major challenge.
So-called paid for services are also going, meaning non-core activities such as military-run hospitals open to the public will be ditched. The military was banned from commercial activities in 1998.
Yang gave no details but said the move would help "clean up the military's work style", a likely reference to anti-graft efforts.
The troop cuts and broader reform program have already proven controversial, though, and the military's newspaper has published a series of commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and worries about job losses.
In an apparent reference to such concerns, Yang said more attention would be paid to looking after those affected by the military's downsizing and "concern shown to resolve real difficulties".
Xinhua news agency later cited the military as expressing full support for the reforms.
"There is an urgent need to further shrink the gap between our military and those of developed nations," it said.
"The vast majority of officers and soldiers have a strong consensus about reform and firmly believe the more reforms there are, the better."
(Editing by Paul Tait and Sanjeev Miglani)