In 2013, during the Third Plenum of the18th Central Committee, it was announced by Xi Jinping that China would introduce widespread military reforms. This shift in policy came a year after Xi Jinping had succeeded Hu Jintao as General Secretary and at the beginning of his program of consolidating his faction’s hold over the Chinese Communist Party. Amid other reforms, including announcements on the economy, the Third Plenum specifically identified the People’s Liberation Army leadership, command and force structures, institutions and civil-military integration as key areas for major reforms.
Xi initiated the reform process two years later in 2015 with the ambitious goal to make the PLA a fully mechanised force by 2020, informatized by 2035 with the key aim of turning it into a world-class army by 2050. These reforms included changes to the Central Military Commission’s bureaucratic structure, the creation of newer forces like the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) and the PLA Joint Logistic Support Force (JLSF) and the formation of theatre commands for improving effectiveness between the various branches. Alongside these institutional reforms, Xi Jinping also prioritised weapons modernisation with the deployment of newer weapon systems.
The formation of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command (WTC) in 2016 saw the replacement of the old Chengdu and Lanzhou Military Regions and established a single unified command structure across Xinjiang, Tibet and along the border of key states from Afghanistan and India. The impetus to modernise the PLA was accelerated after the 2017 Doklam stand-off which saw Indian and Chinese troops face-off in Bhutan. This along with amplified military training has helped the People’s Liberation Army to improve its firepower and develop its combat readiness, making it now more confident to challenge India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).