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China's Xi assumes new role overseeing military reform

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[March 15, 2014]  BEIJING (Reuters)  Chinese President Xi Jinping has taken on a new role overseeing a group in charge of deepening military reform, state media said on Saturday, adding to the list of bodies Xi is taking charge of in his rapid consolidation of power.

Xi is already head of the military in his role as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission.

The official news agency Xinhua said Xi had chaired the first meeting of the new leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the military, in the first mention of the group by state media.

Xi has already taken charge of similar bodies overseeing economic reform and internet security, besides running the new national security commission.

During the military meeting, Xi "stressed the country's military reform should be guided by the objective of building a strong army", Xinhua said.

Xi's speech, full of turgid communist phrases, gave no specifics of how China will modernize its military.

"National defense and military reform are an important part and an important symbol of China's overall reform," Xi said.

With "being able to combat and win battles" as the focus, Xi said reforms should "target key problems in strengthening combat preparedness and weak links in honing combat effectiveness."

The goal is to build an army that "obeys the Party's command, is capable of winning battles and has a sound work style", he added.

China this month announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years, a strong signal that it is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness in Asia, especially in disputed waters.

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The government said it would increase the defense budget by 12.2 percent this year to 808.23 billion yuan ($131.57 billion), as China seeks to develop more high-tech weapons and to beef up coastal and air defenses.

The increase follows a nearly unbroken run of double-digit hikes in the Chinese defense budget, second only to the United States in size, for the past two decades.

The 2014 defense budget is Xi's first since becoming president last year, and the spending increase appears to reflect his desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China.

Xi also recently urged military leaders to speed efforts to get the country's sole aircraft carrier combat-ready.

Aside from the carrier, China is developing a range of high-tech weaponry, from stealth fighters to systems to shoot down satellites.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Clarence Fernandez)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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