China is preparing a five-fold surge to the size of its Marine Corps as Beijing moves to further exert its influence abroad.
The plan would increase the number of Marine Corps personnel from about 20,000 to 100,000 people, the South China Morning Post reported Monday, citing military insiders and experts. The move will be accompanied by cuts to the Chinese military's land forces in an attempt to modernize the People's Liberation Army.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, commander in chief of the world's largest military, has expressed his desire to move away from military reliance on 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 source told South China Morning Post.
The source predicted the government would also expand the Navy by 15 percent.
China's Marine Corps forces have operated primarily in the country's coastal regions given their small numbers and dated equipment. The service's personnel boost will allow troops to be stationed at Chinese ports in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and Gwadar, Pakistan.
The construction of China's military base in Djibouti, which is still ongoing represents significant progress toward Xi's goal of expanding the nation's global influence. The proposed expansion to the Marine Corps would also help China achieve recognition as an international maritime power.
"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," Chinese naval expert Li Jie told South China Morning Post.
"However, the current size of the marines and its equipment are very limited and not enough to cope with the upcoming new challenges," he added.