Structure Chart on China's Military Reforms

The visionary dream of building a strong army is a key component of the often-promoted Chinese dream. China’s leadership and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aim to empower themselves to wage and win information-driven wars through new, lean and dynamized structures. The SIGA organizational chart illustrates these current developments and structures of China’s military-political leadership.


The following observations are remarkable within the current military structure:

  • The classical combined-arms warfare capabilities have been strengthened structurally. All service branches have been elevated and are now on an equal level, which is tantamount to a devaluation of the traditionally proud terrestrial forces. Simultaneously, the Joint Theater Commands were reinforced following the model of the U.S. Armed Forces, with the subtle difference that the U.S. Theater Commands (Geographic Unified Combatant Commands) cover the entire world, while the Chinese variant only covers its own country appearing less expansionistic. In the sense of stabilizing the military internal balance of power, Army generals were often considered for command positions. In the long term, however, they will likely be replaced by Air Force and Navy officers who are already in the deputy positions.
  • The establishment of the Strategic Support Force (SSF) constitutes an innovative element for strengthening the holistic understanding of “jointness”. Thereby, the classical service branches shall not only be dynamized, but linked through the element of information according to the notion of information-driven warfare. The very term of information does not only include technical features (such as data, space or cyber), but, furthermore, implies a comprehensive understanding of it (incl. strategic intelligence and psychological operations). This also corresponds to the Chinese approach of Three Warfares: legal, psychological and media warfare.
  • China’s Ministry of National Defense in line with the State Council has no operational or strategic power within the realm of modern Chinese military. It can be inferred that the factions grouped around Premier Li Keqiang are considerably weakened within the Chinese leadership and that President Xi Jinping exerts strategic as well as military control.
  • The traditionally influential military administration within the Central Military Commission was broken up with respective reforms, and fifteen administrative support departments have been newly established. Meanwhile, the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic, consisting of the identical personnel as of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party, now manages the security policy instruments much more directly. As part of the comprehensive anti-corruption efforts, not only the Party structures but also the military structures have not been spared. Thus, the Party control within the PLA was expanded and consolidated institutionally.
  • As well at the strategic level, there has been a centralization and structural shift toward Xi mainly through the establishment of two institutions. These are, on the one side, the so-called Leading Small Groups (LSG), which critically follow, comment, and provide impulses on developments under Xi’s supervision and on the other side, the National Security Commission has been founded as the central organ for higher-level security policy control.

Urs Vögeli