China has embarked on a major reform of its armed forces at a time when it is stepping up its maritime military presence, as exemplified by its recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles and radar on one of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China says that it will maintain its “defensive national defense policy.” But these moves are certain to raise suspicions among its regional neighbors as well as the United States. Beijing needs to explain in plain terms how these moves can be compatible with what it claims to be “defensive” defense policy. It also needs to make its defense spending more transparent by presenting its weapons procurement programs in concrete terms. A lack of clear explanations on the part of China will only raise tensions with other nations.
In late November, President Xi Jinping, who also heads the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, announced a plan to carry out major shake-up of the People’s Liberation Army, the fourth major reform of the military since 1985, with the aim of turning it into a more effective fighting force.