Emblem of China’s People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

Emblem of China’s People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force. (WikiMedia Commons)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered what amounts to the biggest reorganization of the nation’s military since 2015 in a move that affects the force in charge of capabilities including cyber warfare.

China will terminate the Strategic Support Force, which was created more than eight years ago to enhance capabilities in space, cyber, political and electronic warfare, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.

Xi is in turn creating a new branch called the Information Support Force. The aerospace and cyber units previously under the Strategic Support Force will now be organizationally parallel to the newly created Information Support Force, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Reiterating the Communist Party’s leadership over the army, Xi said that the new force will provide “key support in coordinating the construction and utilization of the cyber information system.”

Li Wei, the political commissar from the now-defunct Strategic Support Force, will take that same role with the Information Support Force. He pledged to “resolutely” listen to Xi’s instruction. The new commander of the Information Support Force is Bi Yi, state television CCTV reported.

The previous commander of the Strategic Support Force was Ju Qiansheng, whose disappearance had spurred speculation of being linked to the broader turmoil in China’s military leadership that’s unfolded over the past year. While Ju has recently resurfaced, state media hasn’t made clear his current position.

The restructuring comes as the world’s second-largest economy faces off with the US in a fight for global sway, with cyber warfare emerging as a key battleground. The US, UK and New Zealand accused China last month of sponsoring malicious cyber activity in targeting democratic institutions.

The latest revamp follows a sweeping purge by Xi of the military establishment last year. US intelligence experts viewed that move as a response to the discovery of widespread corruption in the military, including in the Rocket Force, which manages the country’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

Former Defense Minister Li Shangfu was ousted from his role without explanation in October. China named Dong Jun, a navy veteran, as the new defense chief in December.

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