China says troop cuts by 2017, further military reforms on way
Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China roll on their armoured vehicles to Tiananmen Square as others are shown on a big screen during the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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BEIJING: A 300,000 troop reduction announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday will be basically completed by the end of 2017 and further reforms of the world’s largest armed forces are on the way, the Defence Ministry said.

Xi made the surprise announcement at the opening of a military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War Two. The cut represents a little more than a tenth of the military’s 2.3 million strong forces.

The reduction will make the People’s Liberation Army more modern and better able to achieve the aim of China having a strong military, the ministry said in a question and answer statement carried by the Xinhua news agency.

“The Chinese armed forces will be slimmer but more capable, and their composition will be more scientific,” it said.

The cut would not affect China’s ability to protect itself, the ministry said.

“Cutting troop numbers is beneficial for concentrating resources, speeding up informatisation and raising quality. We have the confidence and ability to deal with all kinds of security threats and risks,” it said.

This is the fourth time since the 1980s that China will be reducing its military numbers, as it speeds up an ambitious modernisation programme which has seen the development of stealth jets and anti-satellite missiles.

Rival Taiwan says China is building two aircraft carriers that will be the same size as its sole carrier, a 60,000-tonne refurbished Soviet-era ship.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said in report obtained by Reuters that one of the new vessels is being built in Shanghai and the other in the northeastern city of Dalian.

It gave no estimate for when construction would be finished and the Chinese ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The focus of the cut announced on Thursday will be on phasing out outdated equipment, simplifying administrative and non-combat roles and “adjusting and improving military structure”, the Chinese ministry said, adding it would be basically completed by late 2017.

Defence spending would not go down as a result, as China still needed to update old equipment and will need to spend money to support those who will leave the military in the process, it added.

Further military reforms will happened in a “step-by-step” manner and are coming “at the appropriate time”, the ministry said, without elaborating.

The cuts are likely part of long-mooted reforms to simplify and further professionalise the military, especially command and leadership structures that are still largely run along Soviet lines.

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