BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping presided Monday over the creation of five new military regions, part of the streamlining of the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army while also signaling his firm control over the armed forces.
The north, south, east, west and central regions replace the seven previous regions. The new districts are being touted as better suited to command joint operations.
Xi presided at a ceremony at the Defense Ministry in his capacity as head of the Communist Party and government commissions overseeing the military. Wearing a high-collared olive green jacket, he presented PLA flags to each of the new region's commanders and political commissars.
"Each military region must be ready to command troops and fight at any time," Xi said. Reinforcing that the military is ultimately loyal to the party, rather than the Chinese state, Xi called on commanders to "unshakably listen to the party's command and hold fast to the party's absolute leadership over the armed forces."
Xi's overhaul aims to make the PLA more effective as a modern fighting force by transforming it from one structured around the ground forces to one of joint command in which the army, navy, air and missile forces all have equal representation.
Last month, Xi ordered the elimination of four headquarters responsible for staff, politics, logistics and armaments and their replacement with 15 new agencies under the direct authority of the party's Central Military Commission.
China also plans to cut 300,000 personnel from the PLA's ranks.
In its ongoing modernization drive, the military has benefited from near annual double-digit percentage increases in its budget, now the world's second largest after that of the United States.