The Communist Chinese government is planning a massive expansion of the country’s Marine Corps to better project its power globally, according to military insiders.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has regularly expressed his desire to better project military power overseas, and experts suggest such a goal necessitates a move away from China’s traditional military reliance on ground forces.
The plan under consideration would increase the number of personnel in the People’s Liberation Army Navy Marine Corps from approximately 20,000 to 100,000; the increase in personnel would be accompanied by a reduction to the People’s Liberation Army’s ground forces.
“The PLA marines will be increased to 100,000, consisting of six brigades in the coming future to fulfill new missions of our country,” an unnamed military source told the South China Morning Post.
“The expanded corps is part of a wider push to refocus the world’s largest army away from winning a land war based on sheer numbers and towards meeting a range of security scenarios using highly specialised units. Towards that end, Chinese President Xi Jinping is reducing the size of the People’s Liberation Army by 300,000, with nearly all of the cuts coming from the land forces.”
Chinese Marine units traditionally operated along the country’s coastline, given their lack of personnel and aging heavy military equipment. Most units are still equipped with the Type 59 main battle tank, first introduced into service in 1959, as well as amphibious tanks and armored personnel carriers introduced in the 1960s.
President Jinping likely intends to turn the Chinese Marine Corps into an overseas expeditionary force, similar to the United States Marines Corps and the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines, to enforce his country’s “One Belt, One Road” policy.
An expanded Marine Corps would allow China to station forces at key ports with a sizable Chinese presence, most notably in Djibouti, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The naval base in Djibouti is significant given its key strategic location on the Horn of Africa and close proximity to Camp Lemonnier, an American military base at the country’s international airport.
“Besides its original missions of a possible war with Taiwan, maritime defense in the East and South China seas, it’s also foreseeable that the PLA Navy’s mission will expand overseas, including protection of China’s national security in the Korean peninsula, the country’s maritime lifelines, as well as offshore supply deports like in Djibouti and Gwadar port in Pakistan,” said Li Xiaojiang, a former navy political commissar.