China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy upgraded its marine corps division to its own elite unit, although the new size of it has not been released to the public yet.
A report issued last week stated, “The amphibious combat force has made progress and it is now taking a more comprehensive approach to development. This transformation has optimized the navy structure and the distribution of its functions,” the South China Morning Post reported.
The PLA Navy called the marine corps one of its “five kids” on their official website, stating “the eldest are submarines, second surface vessels, third air wings, fourth marines, and fifth coastal defense.”
“Tigers on the land, dragons in the sea, and eagles in the air,” is how a promotional video on the website described the Chinese marines.
“China’s marine corps was first established in 1953 and its divisions now include amphibious infantry, armored troops, artillery troops, air defense, engineering, scouts and special combat troops,” according to the South China Morning Post.
The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. based think tank, recently projected this move and expected the Chinese military to increase their marine corps by about 40,000 troops.
A naval expert based in Beijing, Li Jie said, “This expansion and upgrade has been part of the broader military overhaul taking place in recent years. It has nothing to do with the American structure but has grown out of the military’s own needs. There are more and more maritime interests to defend, especially islands and reefs.”
According to Li, as conflicts mount over the South China Sea and reunification efforts with Taiwan, a much more robust structure was needed. The efforts to expand and upgrade the marine corps will allow a much more enhanced and functional system.
China expands marine corps into own unit ‘to defend maritime interests’ https://t.co/DSMox7HGId
— SCMP News (@SCMPNews) April 22, 2019
Song Zhongping, a military commentator in Hong Kong said the new addition will allow the navy to take on new assignments, leaving missions such as security, counter-terrorism and evacuation of Chinese nationals overseas to the marine corp, the South China Morning Post stated.
Song said, “Like in the blockbuster films, the special combat force – like the Jiaolong team that evacuates civilians and rescue hostages – will be members of the marine corps.”
Li said the Chinese military will not operate or function like the U.S. Marine Corps; it will be much smaller and remain part of the navy.
“I don’t see Chinese marines operating independently overseas like the U.S. Marine Corps,” Li said.