China amends defence law to boost war preparedness

Xi-led CMC to have greater sway in mobilisation of resources

January 03, 2021 09:49 pm | Updated 10:16 pm IST

Xi Jinping.

Xi Jinping.

China’s President Xi Jinping has signed an order that has amended China’s National Defence Law, giving the Central Military Commission (CMC), which he heads, greater sway in mobilising resources to protect a new and broader definition of what constitutes the national interest.

The revised regulations on military equipment, which are effective as of January 1, focus on “war preparedness and combat capabilities”, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday, adding that they "define the basic tasks, contents and management mechanisms for military equipment work under the new situation and system.” The document, which State media said comprised 100 stipulations in 14 chapters, follows “the general principle of the CMC exercising overall leadership, theater commands responsible for military operations and the services focusing on developing capabilities.”

Draft amendments released last year noted that “when China's sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, and security and development interests are under threat, the country can conduct nationwide or local defense mobilisation”. The phrase “development interests” was a new addition to the law, with experts noting this also included the protection of China’s economic activities and assets overseas, such as those under the Belt and Road Initiative, as a reason for defence mobilisation.

The amendment broadened the scope of key security fields beyond land borders, maritime and air defence, to include outer space and electromagnetic networks. The amendment also said China “will participate in global security governance, join multilateral security talks and push for and set up a set of international rules that is widely accepted, fair and reasonable”, State media reported.

The amendments, experts said, were also aimed at increasing the control exercised by the CMC and transferring some decision-making previously exercised by the State Council, or cabinet, that runs the government, to the CMC. The broader goal is to speed up the modernisation plans for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

After Mr. Xi assumed the role of General Secretary of the Communist Party in 2012 and as President the following year, a number of measures have restructured the Party-State apparatus, handing back greater political control to Party bodies that previously had left decision-making to the government machinery. In 2016, Mr. Xi pushed sweeping reforms of the PLA and brought its various departments under more direct control of the CMC, which he heads. Seven military regions were reorganised into five integrated theater commands. The Western Theater Command, the largest, is responsible for the border with India.

The revised regulations would push Chinese military development “in two major aspects”, according to Song Zhongping, a military expert in Beijing, who told the Party-run Global Times the amendments would push faster research and development as well as improve management of existing military equipment. Mr. Song said the theater commands would be given a greater role "to provide the direction for the future development of weaponry based on the demand of winning a future war.”

The change comes amid a push for closer civil-military fusion, with a target to make the PLA a “world class” military, or on par with the United States military, by 2049, when the People’s Republic of China turns 100. The South China Morning Post reported the amendment underlines the need "to build a nationwide coordination mechanism for the mobilisation of state-owned and private enterprises to take part in research into new defence technologies covering conventional weapons, as well as the non-traditional domains of cybersecurity, space and electromagnetics.”

The new moves, the Post said, have " expanded the power” of the CMC "to mobilise military and civilian resources in defence of the national interest, both at home and abroad” and would also "weaken the role of the State Council” in "formulating military policy” by "handing decision-making powers to the CMC.” “The CMC is now formally in charge of making national defence policy and principles, while the State Council becomes a mere implementing agency to provide support to the military,” Zeng Zhiping, a former PLA colonel who is a military law expert at Soochow University, told the paper.

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