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Xi orders China’s biggest military reorganisation since 2015

The restructuring comes as the world’s second-largest economy faces off with the US in a fight for global influence, with cyber warfare emerging as a key battleground.
Last Updated : 20 April 2024, 10:33 IST
Last Updated : 20 April 2024, 10:33 IST

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered what amounts to the biggest reorganization of the nation’s military since 2015 in a move that affects the force in charge of capabilities including cyber warfare.

China will terminate the Strategic Support Force, which was created more than eight years ago to enhance capabilities in space, cyber, political and electronic warfare, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

Xi is in turn creating a new branch called the Information Support Force. The aerospace and cyber units previously under the Strategic Support Force will now be organizationally parallel to the newly created Information Support Force, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The aerospace unit will improve China’s capability to use space and step up the management of space crises, the ministry said.

The restructuring comes as the world’s second-largest economy faces off with the US in a fight for global influence, with cyber warfare emerging as a key battleground. The US, UK and New Zealand accused China last month of sponsoring malicious cyber activity in targeting democratic institutions.

Reiterating the Communist Party’s leadership over the army, Xi said that the new force will provide “key support in coordinating the construction and utilization of the cyber information system.”

Li Wei, the political commissar from the now-defunct Strategic Support Force, will take that same role with the Information Support Force. He pledged to “resolutely” listen to Xi’s instructions. The new commander of the Information Support Force is Bi Yi, state television CCTV reported.

Cyber tensions

The changes are aimed at better adapting China’s military to the “informatization” conditions of modern warfare, said Cao Weidong, a retired senior researcher at the PLA Naval Research Academy. The restructuring will lead to “better deployment” of satellite systems, cyberspace, and when conducting electronic warfare, Cao told reporters on the sidelines of the West Pacific Naval Symposium in Qingdao.

The previous commander of the Strategic Support Force was Ju Qiansheng, whose disappearance had spurred speculation that he was linked to the broader turmoil in China’s military leadership that’s unfolded over the past year. While Ju has recently resurfaced, state media hasn’t made clear his current position.

The latest revamp follows a sweeping purge by Xi of the military establishment last year. US intelligence experts viewed that move as a response to the discovery of widespread corruption in the military, including in the Rocket Force, which manages the country’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

Former Defense Minister Li Shangfu was ousted from his role without explanation in October. China named Dong Jun, a navy veteran, as the new defense chief in December.

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Published 20 April 2024, 10:33 IST

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