Xi calls for Innovation and ‘Jointness’ in PLA

M.V. RappaiHonorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies.

Within a short span of ten days Chinese President and Chairman of Central Military Commission (CMC), Xi Jinping met with key members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and exhorted them to adopt innovation and ‘jointness’. On 23 March 2016, Xi paid his first formal visit as the Party Secretary and Commander in Chief to the National Defence University, premier training institute of PLA. During his visit Xi wanted the NDU to “overhaul its courses and teaching methods, gearing them to foster officers who can command joint operations”. Earlier Xi Jinping met with all the representatives of PLA attending the annual National People’s Congress session on 13 March 2016. During his talks with them Xi wanted, innovation should be given a key position in China’s military development and “urged the armed forces to turn cutting edge technology into real combat capacity.” He further added that, “innovation is the core competitiveness of the military and number one driver to energize growth, and added that China is in urgent need of innovation driven development.”

In September 2015, Xi Jinping, Chairman of the CMC had announced to reduce the number of PLA troops from 2.3 million to 2 million. Reform also plans to weed out outdated armaments, developing new weapons systems and reducing the size of the militia. These reforms aim at further rationalising and consolidating the defence expenses, which will in turn reduce the pressure on the total budgetary demands. Overall security scenario around China is changing rapidly, the tremendous changes taking place in technology, especially in the fields of surveillance techniques and reaction timings, PLA leadership were planning to adopt more changes to make its forces to enable itself to fight a modern war under hi-tech conditions.

The national budget presented to the NPC, stated that, the central government’s spending on defence for the current fiscal year is projected to increase 7.6 percent to RMB 954.4 billion yuan (US $ 147 billion) in comparison with a 10.1 percent rise last year. This is the slowest rate of growth for China’s published defence budget since it increased 7.3 percent in 2010. In principle China had accepted that it will keep its increase in defence spending in tandem with its annual economic growth. China’s GDP is projected to grow by 6.5 – 7 percent in coming year. Some observers speculate that the actual defence spending is higher than the announced figures, but there is no way to confirm or repudiate this.

In India we need to study some aspects closely. Firstly, the defence spending analysis must consider the overall income and expenditure of the nation. However, the immediate threat perceptions must be taken care of on a priority basis; in other words a crisis situation needs urgent financial measures. Secondly, the innovation based defence modernisation plan of China needs to be better known and understood in India.  China’s efforts at ‘jointness’ – i.e. unified organization and deployment actions doctrine – and adopting innovation have far reaching consequences for our defence preparedness.

This year Indian Finance minister’s budget speech did not give many details about the annual defence budget. According to one source, defence got $51-billion for 2016-17 (US$1=INR 66), 2.25 percent of GDP as against $36-billion and 1.75 percent of GDP the previous year.  Some other sources placed this year’s defence spending at approximately $42 billion. Yet the real problem of Indian defence is its failure to spend the allotted defence funds; according to one observer, the “defence ministry failed to spend Rupees 11,595 crore of its capital budget earmarked for buying new weapons and systems last year.” Over and above this an amount of Rs. 6,700 crore of the defence expenditure remained unspent.

The new direction of the PLA shows that, China is getting ready for a long drawn reform of its deterrence and offensive capabilities. When the Chinese leadership invokes ‘jointness’, they mean a combination of both conventional and available asymmetric options. How this nation is going to deploy its comprehensive national strength for its optimum use is to be closely watched; the ultimate aim will be not to use the firepower, rather to use the combined deterrence strength of cyber, space and nuclear forces. One assessment is that the main aim of these forces will be to deter/dissuade the enemy rather than provoke an open war.

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