BEIJING: President Xi Jinping’s announcement Thursday that China will cut its military by 300,000 troops was couched in the language of peace. Yet analysts say that it was intended as a move to modernize and strengthen, not diminish, the country’s armed forces.
“War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind,” Xi said in a speech at Tiananmen Square commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. “We must learn the lessons of history and dedicate ourselves to peace.”
Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University, said however that Beijing may have planned the troop cut “in the name of efficiency and cost saving so that the defense budget can be reallocated to 21st-century capabilities.”
“Infantry are no longer a measure of power,” he said. “One metric to watch is overall military spending, which goes up in China by double digits each year — ahead of economic growth. Another metric to watch is the development of new and leading-edge technologies like cyber, hypersonic missiles and submarines.”
Xi’s announcement came near the start of the highly choreographed ceremonies in central Beijing, which included a military parade showing off a slew of new armaments.
Hours after the speech, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said Beijing would complete the troop cuts by 2017 “in its latest effort to build slimmer but stronger armed forces,” according to the official New China News Agency. He added that the cuts would target “outdated armaments, administrative staff and noncombatant personnel.”
China has 2.3 million troops, compared with the 1.3 million members of the U.S. armed forces.
Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese military officer and a consultant to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said Beijing has been attempting to rebalance its forces as it puts a new emphasis on air and sea operations.
“The air force and navy have both made big gains in the last few years. But the balance of forces is still 70 percent army, 15 percent navy and 15 percent air force,” he said, speaking before the troop cuts were announced. “My guess is that the PLA (the People’s Liberation Army) will try to adjust that to about 50 percent army, 25 percent navy and 25 percent air force in the coming years.”
Pentagon officials warn that China’s rapid military modernization is aimed at projecting power in East Asia and at raising the risks the U.S. faces if it intervenes in maritime hot spots, such as the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait, where Beijing has long-standing territorial claims.
For that reason, they say, China has spent heavily on anti-ship cruise missiles, air defense systems, submarines and other advanced weapons in hopes of forcing US aircraft carriers and fighters to operate farther away from the Asian mainland if a conflict broke out.