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Responding to the Epidemic in Wuhan: Insights into Chinese Military Logistics

By Joel Wuthnow The Jamestown Foundation

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Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing
Soldiers from People’s Liberation Army listen to briefing in preparation for search and extraction exchange during 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center, Warrenton, Oregon, November 16, 2017 (U.S. Army/April Davis)
Photo By: Sgt. 1st Class April Davis
VIRIN: 171116-Z-OT568-001

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has portrayed its response to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in heroic terms: battling against an insidious enemy, PLA personnel courageously and tirelessly helped to mitigate the disaster in the epidemic-ravaged city. The PLA has even made the amazing (and highly improbable) claim that it accomplished this while suffering zero infections within its own ranks (China Military Online, March 3). Despite the hype, the crisis has provided an opportunity for the PLA’s newly reformed logistics system to test its ability to mobilize resources in exigent circumstances.

The Joint Logistic Support Force (联勤保障部队, Lianqin Baozhang Budui) or JLSF, which was created in September 2016 as part of Xi Jinping’s larger overhaul of the military, has been at the forefront of the PLA’s response. The JLSF’s role in Wuhan illuminated several key strengths of the PLA logistics system—including centralized control, effective use of information technology, and civil-military coordination—while also suggesting potential deficiencies. At a minimum, the crisis likely resulted in “lessons learned” that could improve the JLSF’s role in supporting commanders during wartime.

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