China sets up new logistics force as part of military reforms

September 13, 2016 9:32 PM EDT

Soldiers drive CM33 "Clouded Leopard" infantry fighting vehicle during annual Han Kuang military drill simulating the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island, in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu - RTX

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's military has set up a new logistics support force as part of efforts to reform and modernize the world's largest armed forces, state media has reported.

President Xi Jinping's push to reform the military coincides with China becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes with Asian neighbors in the East and South China Seas.

China's navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and its air force is developing stealth fighters.

In January, China created three new military units, including a missile force that controls its nuclear deterrent.

The new joint logistics force would better support military operations, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Tuesday.

The move "is a strategic decision by the Communist Party's Central Committee and Central Military Commission to comprehensively deepen national defense and military reform", Xinhua cited Xi as telling a ceremony in Beijing.

"It is of far-reaching significance to establishing a modern joint logistics support force with Chinese characteristics and building a world-leading military," he said.

Support centers for the new unit would be established in five Chinese cities, Xinhua said, including Shenyang in the northeast, close to the sensitive North Korean border.

Xi said the logistics body "is a main force in strategic battle support missions".

The new force should "deepen logistics preparedness for battle and better integrate the force into the joint operations system and carry out real battle training", he said.

Xi's reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000, a surprise announcement he made last year.

China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but integration of complex systems across a regionalized command structure has been a major challenge.

The move has proved controversial and Xi has run into opposition in the military, though, and the military's newspaper has published a series of commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and concern about job losses.

Xi has also made rooting out deeply entrenched corruption in the military a top priority. Dozens of senior officers have been investigated and jailed.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)

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