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BEIJING China’s armed forces must be smaller but more capable, and if reforms are not properly carried out the military risks falling behind, affecting its ability to wage war, Chinese state media on Saturday cited President Xi Jinping as saying.

Xi unexpectedly announced in September last year that he would cut troop numbers by 300,000, or some 13 percent of the world’s biggest military, currently 2.3-million strong.

The cuts come at a time of heightened economic uncertainty in China as growth slows and the leadership grapples with painful economic reforms. In October, hundreds of previously demobilized soldiers protested in Beijing.

The lay-offs are part of broader reforms to modernize the military, moving away from the old Soviet-era command module and putting more emphasis on high-tech weapons such as stealth jets.

Speaking at a two-day meeting on military reform, Xi said militaries must never stick to their old ways and need to change with the times.

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“Otherwise, armed forces that were strong will become outdated, or even collapse at a single blow,” Xi said in comments carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

“History and reality tells us that a military, if it falls behind the times on scale and strength, it will fall behind on war ideology and developments in waging war, maybe forfeiting strategy and right to initiate war,” he added.

China’s military needs to put more focus on technology rather than force of numbers, Xi said.

“This is a major, inevitable change,” Xi told the meeting. “We must seize the opportunity and make breakthroughs.”

China’s military has not fought a war in decades and the government insists has no hostile intents, simply needing the ability to properly defend what is now the world’s second-largest economy.

But China has rattled nerves around the region with its increasingly assertive stance in the East and South China Seas and ambitious modernization program that includes aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

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(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Susan Thomas)

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