[BEIJING] Chinese President Xi Jinping has been appointed commander-in-chief of a new joint command headquarters for China's military, state media said, part of an on-going reform programme to modernise the world's largest armed forces.
Mr Xi already oversees the People's Liberation Army in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, and has now been appointed commander-in-chief of the commission's Joint Command Headquarters, state media said this week.
Mr Xi announced the setting up of the new headquarters in November, a move previously flagged by the military which is meant to help coordination between different parts of the defence system.
China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but operational integration of complex and disparate systems across a regionalised command structure is a major challenge.
In the past, regional level military commanders have enjoyed latitude over their forces and branches of the military have remained highly independent, making it difficult to exercise the centralised control necessary to use new weapons systems effectively in concert.
Mr Xi told officers at the headquarters they must have a clear sense of crisis and focus their skills, state media said. "We will take special measures to train professionals for joint operations ... and speed up the development and deployment of advanced technologies," Mr Xi, dressed in camouflaged military uniform, said.
The headquarters needs also to streamline operational procedures and share experiences with regional joint commands, Mr Xi added.
Mr Xi's push to reform the military coincides with China becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, and as its navy invests in submarines and aircraft carriers and its air force develops stealth fighters.
The reforms include rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000, a surprise announcement he made last September.
The troop cuts and broader reforms have proven controversial and the military's newspaper has published a series of commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and concern about job losses.
Mr Xi has also made rooting out deeply entrenched corruption in the military a top priority.