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Xi Jinping Re-Organizes Key Military Forces – Better Focus or Just Purging Disloyalty?

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has orchestrated the most substantial military reorganization since 2015. This strategic reshuffle underscores its commitment to becoming a dominant force in modern warfare. This could also be a continuation of Xi’s efforts to purge the military of disloyal officers and to counter internal threats that may challenge Xi in the future.

The Dissolution of the Strategic Support Force

Established over eight years ago, the Strategic Support Force played a pivotal role in enhancing China’s capabilities across several critical domains, including space, cyber, political, and electronic warfare. Its dissolution marks a significant shift in China’s military strategy, aimed at adapting to the changing nature of global conflicts and the rise of digital warfare. The official Xinhua News Agency emphasized that this move would terminate an essential part of China’s military that had focused on “capabilities in space, cyber, political and electronic warfare.”

Launch of the Information Support Force

In place of the disbanded Strategic Support Force, Xi Jinping has introduced the Information Support Force, a new branch poised to spearhead China’s efforts in the realms of cyber and aerospace. This unit is not merely a replacement but an evolution, designed to meet the challenges of cyberwarfare, which is rapidly becoming a frontline in global power struggles.

The Defense Ministry outlined that “the aerospace and cyber units previously under the Strategic Support Force will now be organizationally parallel to the newly created Information Support Force.” This restructuring aims to enhance synergy between China’s military capabilities in space and cyberspace, essential arenas for national defense and international competition.

Strategic Rationale Behind the Reorganization

This military overhaul is strategically timed as tensions with the United States escalate, with both nations vying for technological supremacy. The importance of this move is highlighted by recent international accusations against China. For instance, the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand have accused China of sponsoring malicious cyber activities aimed at undermining democratic institutions. This backdrop makes the formation of the Information Support Force particularly relevant and necessary.

Reaffirming the Communist Party’s leadership in this transition, Xi Jinping stated that the new force would provide “key support in coordinating the construction and utilization of the cyber information system.” This quote underscores the Party’s intent to maintain stringent control over the military’s strategic direction and ensure that its objectives align with national policies.

Leadership and Promises of Adherence

The leadership of the new Information Support Force is crucial for its success. Li Wei, transitioning from his role in the now-defunct Strategic Support Force to the same role in the Information Support Force, promised to “resolutely listen to Xi’s instructions.” This pledge of loyalty is vital in a context where military efficacy and adherence to party lines are paramount.

Bi Yi, the newly appointed commander of the Information Support Force, symbolizes a fresh start and possibly new military doctrines that could redefine China’s approach to modern warfare.

Addressing Modern Warfare’s Challenges

The reorganization reflects China’s strategic shift towards “informatization” conditions of warfare, where information technology is integrated into all aspects of military operations. Cao Weidong, a retired senior researcher at the PLA Naval Research Academy, explained that this restructuring would lead to “better deployment” of satellite systems and enhance operations in cyberspace and electronic warfare.

President Xi Jinping’s decision to overhaul China’s military structure is a decisive move towards aligning the country’s defense capabilities with the realities of 21st-century warfare. By focusing on cyber and information warfare, China is not only preparing to defend against new types of threats but is also positioning itself as a formidable player in the global arena. It additionally provides a reason to exclude officers who might be less loyal and who might challenge Xi’s power in the future. While these moves are not visible to outsider, ACZ experts believe they are in motion and were well planned.

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