December 7, 2015 / 3:06 AM / 4 years ago

China military tells officers to hold their tongues on reform concerns

BEIJING (Reuters) - High-ranking officers in the Chinese army must hold their tongues about concerns over military reform and lead from the front to ensure the rank and file are on board, the People’s Liberation Army said on Monday.

New recruit People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers shout slogans as they march during a training session in cold winter temperatures at a military base in Heihe, Heilongjiang province, China, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/China Daily

President Xi Jinping unveiled a broad-brush outline of the reforms last month, seeking further modernization of the command structure of the world’s largest armed forces, including job losses, to better enable it to win a modern war.

Xi is determined to modernize at the same time as China becomes more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers, while the air force is developing stealth fighters.

The reforms, kicked of in September with Xi’s announcement he would cut service personnel by 300,000, have been controversial.

The military’s newspaper has published a series of commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and worries about lost jobs.

In a front-page commentary in the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military’s political department, in charge of ideology and ensuring loyalty to the ruling Communist Party, said the success or failure of reform depended on top officers “leading from the front and setting a fine example”.

“It is forbidden to speak nonsense, make irresponsible comments, have your own points of view, act as you see fit or feign compliance,” it said, in a piece also carried in the party’s official People’s Daily.

Special attention must be paid to what ordinary soldiers think and sensitive subjects “effectively resolved”, it added.

“(You) must organize and manage well public opinion, especially on the Internet, and fight an active battle to create a good atmosphere for promoting reform,” the piece said.

Those in the military who “resolutely support reform and dare to throw themselves into reform” should be promoted, it added.

The commentary reiterated the party’s absolute leadership over the military and reminded officers to oppose “liberalism”, wording the army normally uses to refer to those who wish to challenge the party’s control.

Xi’s reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers.

The military commentary said that the reforms were unprecedented in their scope and for the interest groups they touch upon.

“Deepening military reform is a big test that cannot be avoided, and we have begun our assault and entered deep waters,” it added.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

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