Last year, the Chinese President and Chairman of its Central Military Commission (CMC) – Xi Jinping exhorted the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to maintain combat readiness and ordered them to be ready to “act any second” in the backdrop of rising tensions in the region.
In a fresh development, Beijing has published new rules to ensure that the PLA has a direct role in the design, testing, and upgrading of weapons systems.
The regulations, which were revealed last weekend and backed by CMC Chairman Xi Jinping, are part of a larger, multi-year effort to revamp the armed forces and transform them into a modern, combat-ready force, SCMP reported.
“The main purpose of the regulations is to let the PLA make the final decision because they are the weapon consumers,” said Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing.
“That means the PLA will take the initiative to test and assess new weapons and equipment, and even has the right to take part in the development of new weapons.”
The new regulations, which have 56 articles in 11 chapters and went into effect on February 10, specify the basic tasks, contents, and management mechanisms of military equipment testing and assessment under new conditions, and serve as the fundamental rule of relevant work, as previously reported by Global Times.
Xi Jinping orders China’s military to be ready for war ‘at any second’ and that the PLA should be in a state of “full-time combat readiness”. He also said the troops should use "new combat realms into training and combat systems". 'Innernet', you mean Xi?
— Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash) January 5, 2021
According to Song Zhongping, a Chinese military analyst and TV commentator, the new laws come at a time when there is a significant shift in the global security paradigm and Beijing is being obliged to improve its preparedness for potential armed engagements.
Tightening Grip Over Military
The regulations have raised the performance and quality criteria for the development of new weapons and equipment said the SCMP report.
All new weaponry is required to be capable of responding to computerized and AI (artificial intelligence)-driven modern warfare, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Unlike the United States and other Western countries, state-owned arms corporations such as China North Industries Group, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and China Aerospace Science and Technology develop and produce practically all of the PLA’s weapon systems.
— China SCIO (@chinascio) January 6, 2022
“In the past, arms companies would persuade the PLA to buy their products, whether they needed to or not, because the military was told to keep the orders to help defense industry workers keep their jobs,” Zhou Chenming said.
The state-owned defense corporations would then try to build upgraded variants for the military after listening to PLA feedback, but the technique was still archaic when compared to that of the Western rivals, he noted.
According to military law expert at Suzhou City University and retired PLA Lieutenant Colonel Zeng Zhiping, these new modifications clarified the missions of the PLA’s many sectors and units and ordered the entire armed forces to establish an efficient command system to better manage troops and weaponry, with the ultimate goal of constructing a modern combat force.
“Indeed, both the rules of military equipment [released last January] and the recent new regulations are all supplementary stipulations within the National Defense Law, which highlighted the superiority of the CMC, with the CMC chairman having legitimacy to sign and release military regulations,” Zeng said.
China’s National Defense Law was updated on January 1, 2021, to weaken the role of the State Council, China’s cabinet, in drafting military strategy and to give the CMC decision-making authority.
The CMC has the legal authority to mobilize military and civilian resources to defend national interests both at home and abroad, according to the legislation.
With these new regulations, the PLA gets an enhanced role in weapon development and by virtue of that, the CMC can make decisions on matters pertaining to weapon manufacturing. However, the main objective of the CMC, as has been reiterated on several occasions is to ensure combat readiness.
All Focus On Combat Readiness
The new military equipment regulations are also in congruence with a slew of reforms and rules signed by President Xi Jinping in order to strengthen the combat capability of the PLA at a time when China remains embroiled in tensions with Taiwan on one hand and India on the other.
In November last year, Xi signed a new set of military equipment procurement regulations that focused on war readiness and combat capabilities. The objective of the regulations was to allow the PLA to acquire the best weapons and equipment that would be most needed on future battlefields, at a faster speed.
By 2027, the ruling Communist Party wants the PLA to be a modernized force on par with the United States, and by 2050, it wants the PLA to be a world-class military.
In October last year, President Xi Jinping also urged efforts to break new ground in the development of the country’s military armaments and equipment, as well as contribute to the achievement of the PLA’s 2027 centennial goals, a part of the 14th Five Year Plan.
In the past two years, China has opened multiple flashpoints in the region. It currently remains embroiled in a land border conflict with India with no end in sight. In the Indo-Pacific, PLA’s routine intrusions into Taiwan’s airspace and its resolve to reunite the island state with the Chinese mainland have escalated tensions between Beijing and Taipei. The latter is backed by the West and its allies in the region.
China boosting its combat readiness by streamlining rules could be understood as an effort to send a message to its adversaries on one hand and prepare for possible contingencies on the other. Experts have flagged Xi Jinping’s tightening of grip on the military and the new rules could be expected to aid that control.
Further, China’s rising significance and stature in the world that aims to challenge the American hegemony has to be accompanied by a steady military rise that matches the strength of the US forces.