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RESHAPING THE CHINESE MILITARY: The PLA's Roles and Missions in the Xi Jinping Era.

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 control of China's military arm. This allows the regime to challenge the presence of US military deployments in East Asia without forcing a breakdown in the overall bilateral relationship or risking armed conflict, which neither side wants. As under Mao, the Party again controls the gun and can calibrate finely where it is deployed and aimed.

However, Xi faces a dilemma in military innovation, manufacturing and procurement. Foreign technology firms and weapons suppliers, and their private joint ventures in China, offer China enhanced military capabilities but at the same time pose the risk of reducing Party control and rendering China dependent on foreign innovators. As a result, China's technical-military trajectory is predicted to be less steep than optimal, but this is a price Xi appears willing to pay for political orthodoxy and technical-military self-sufficiency, at least until Beijing's 'Made in China 2025' initiative bears fruit.

Bitzinger is a visiting research fellow and Char is an associate research fellow, both at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang University, Singapore. Their contributors are academics based at Deakin University, Georgetown University, University of California at San Diego, National Chengchi University Taiwan, US National Defense University, University of Macau and University of Sydney as well as at the CNA Corporation, Washington DC. Collectively they have produced an informative, perceptive and soundly researched study of how China's military institutions and developments have been shaped by, and enhance, Xi Jinping's leadership and foreign policies initiatives since 2012.


Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley teaches politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, and is a NZIR corresponding editor.
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Author:Hoadley, Stephen
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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