Publications

Feb. 5, 2019

Large and In Charge: Civil-Military Relations under Xi Jinping

One of the key goals of Xi’s military reforms has been to strengthen Chinese Communist Party control over the army. As NDU China specialists Phillip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow discuss in their chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," this goal was pursued in several ways: enhancing supervision of officers, reinforcing political education, and encouraging stronger interagency cooperation. Xi has also used a variety of political tools to enhance his own authority, including compensating losers and targeting opponents through an anti-corruption campaign.

Feb. 5, 2019

China's Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era

One of the key PLA organizational innovations under XI Jinping has been the creation of a new command responsible for operations in the information domain—the Strategic Support Force. It consolidates a number of functions previously scattered in different parts of the PLA covering operations in the space, cyber, electronic warfare, and psychological warfare arenas. In their chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," PLA experts John Costello and Joe McReynolds document the SSF’s background, structure, missions, and leadership. While the SSF aims to fulfill important roles, such as providing intelligence to warfighters, enabling power projection, and supporting strategic defense, the authors conclude on a skeptical note: the “new centralization of information power may be more a function of persistent paranoia and the need for control than a desire to explore innovative means of warfighting.”

Feb. 5, 2019

Making Sense of China's Missile Forces

China’s land-based nuclear and conventional missile forces—previously known as the Second Artillery—have been renamed as the Rocket Force and elevated to the status of a full service, alongside the army, navy, and air force. In his chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," Princeton University Ph.D. candidate David Logan reviews the history of China’s missile forces and argue that this component of the PLA might be the “biggest winner” of recent reforms. In contrast to the other services, which lost autonomy as the PLA transitions to a joint command structure, the Rocket Force retains significant control over its subordinate units and could even gain personnel and missions as a full service. Nevertheless, key questions remain about how well the conventional missile forces will be integrated into PLA joint operations.

Feb. 5, 2019

The Biggest Loser in Chinese Military Reforms: The PLA Army

Long the largest and most influential of the PLA’s services, the PLA ground forces has been the subject of repeated cuts over the past two decades as China’s leaders prioritize the maritime and aerospace domains. In his chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," PLA expert Dennis Blasko argues that the army has been the “biggest loser” of the Xi-era reforms, taking the brunt of the 300,000-person downsizing and losing five of its 18 group armies. Blasko examines recent developments to the army’s leadership, structure, training, education, doctrine, and operational deployments. He concludes that due to its outdated “institutional mindset” and challenges in training a new generation of competent officers, the army will have significant trouble becoming an integral part of a joint force.

Feb. 5, 2019

PLA Force Reductions: Impact on the Services

Like his predecessors, Xi Jinping has sought to improve the PLA by trimming its size and adjusting its outdated force structure. In his chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," Department of Defense analyst Daniel Gearin compares the current round of reforms with previous downsizings. He argues that reformers have been willing to make cuts for several reasons, including streamlining the PLA’s structure, enhancing interoperability, reducing the outsized influence of the ground forces, and prioritizing quality over quantity.

Feb. 5, 2019

A Modern Major General: Building Joint Commanders in the PLA

In their chapter, "A Modern Major General: Building Joint Commanders in the PLA," NDU China specialists Joel Wuthnow and Phillip C. Saunders explore how recent changes in China’s military education, training, and personnel systems could strengthen PLA joint operations. Nevertheless, they argue that cultivating qualified joint commanders will be a “generational project” as more capable PLA officers rise through the ranks.

Feb. 4, 2019

Handling Logistics in a Reformed PLA: The Long March Toward Joint Logistics

A key change to the PLA’s structure under Xi Jinping has been the transition from seven ground force-dominated military regions to five joint theater commands. In their chapter of the new NDU Press volume, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," independent analyst Leigh-Ann Luce and DIA expert Erin Richter assess how reforms could enable stronger logistics support to joint theater commanders. They concluded that the reforms will “depend on how effectively the PLA can professionalize logistics operations to ensure reliability within the system and modernize its information technology.”

Feb. 4, 2019

Coming to a (New) Theater Near You: Command, Control, and Forces

A key change to the PLA’s structure under Xi Jinping has been the transition from seven ground force-dominated military regions to five joint theater commands. In their chapter of the new NDU Press volume, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," RAND experts Edmund Burke and Arthur Chan provide a comprehensive review of the new system and discuss the operational drivers, such as improving jointness in the PLA and streamlining responsibilities. In another chapter, independent analyst Leigh-Ann Luce and DIA expert Erin Richter assess how reforms could enable stronger logistics support to joint theater commanders. They concluded that the reforms will “depend on how effectively the PLA can professionalize logistics operations to ensure reliability within the system and modernize its information technology.”

Feb. 4, 2019

Toward a More Joint, Combat-Ready PLA?

One of the key drivers of Xi Jinping’s military reform agenda has been building a PLA more capable of conducting joint operations, such as blockades and amphibious landings. RAND analyst Mark Cozad shows in his chapter of the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," that this is not a new goal for the PLA. While reforms build on increasing realistic joint training exercises, Cozad argues that a risk-averse organizational culture could pose continuing challenges to fielding an effective joint force. In their chapter, NDU China specialists Joel Wuthnow and Phillip C. Saunders explore how recent changes in China’s military education, training, and personnel systems could strengthen PLA joint operations. Nevertheless, they argue that cultivating qualified joint commanders will be a “generational project” as more capable PLA officers rise through the ranks.

Feb. 4, 2019

The Flag Lags but Follows: The PLA and China's Great Leap Outward

How can the PLA protect China’s overseas interests while also preparing for regional wars? This question is becoming more acute as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) expands China’s international presence. In their chapter in the new NDU Press book, "Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms," RAND analysts Andrew Scobell and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga review options for how China can secure Chinese civilians and assets abroad, including by opening new military bases and enhancing the PLA’s power projection capabilities. The chapter dives deep into three cases—China’s inaugural base in Djibouti, reliance on Pakistani assistance since 2007, and evacuation of Chinese personnel from Yemen in 2015—showing that Beijing has a varied toolset for protecting overseas interests, with the PLA often playing only a supporting role.