Reforming the People’s Liberation Army Navy

Mr. Zi Yang

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been playing an increasingly important role in defending Chinese national interests in a time of simmering tensions in the East and South China Seas. For the past three years, the PLAN has been undergoing substantial changes as part of a comprehensive military reform that has significantly altered the organizational structure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This paper seeks to understand the drivers and achievements of the latest PLAN reforms, especially at levels below the PLA headquarters through an extensive survey of Chinese and English sources. The central question of this research is, how has the reform changed the PLAN and what are future implications for security in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific? I have discovered remarkable changes to the PLAN headquarters’ relations with theater commands – the successors to the former military regions. Moreover, the theater commands’ command relationship with the fleets, now known as theater command navies, has evolved to a large degree. Likewise, we have witnessed significant reforms of the PLA Marine Corps, naval intelligence, garrisons, as well as minor adjustments to the organizational structure of surface combatants. With rising nationalism in China stimulated by maritime territorial disputes, it is imperative for us to grasp changes in the PLAN, a front-line force for realization of China’s maritime ambitions.