BEIJING  - China’s armed forces plan to set up a joint operational command system to “enhance efficiency” in crisis response, state media reported Friday.

At present the People’s Liberation Army, (PLA) the world’s biggest military, which incorporates China’s navy and air force, is arranged on a geographical system with land forces at its core and dividing the country into seven regions.

Now the military has “launched positive pilot programmes” for a joint operational command system and will establish the system “in due course”, the state-run China Daily newspaper said, citing the defence ministry. It was not clear from the report whether the regional system would be replaced. But a more unified structure could reduce the possibility of a local commander taking unauthorised action in a crisis situation.

The defence ministry said its military modernisation was not aimed at any country, the China Daily said.

Arthur Ding, an expert on China’s military at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said internal discussions over setting up such a system had been going on for years and it could be seen as part of China’s military modernisation.

“The Chinese military a long time ago realised that the so-called joint operation is an inevitable trend for the military to develop and they’re really working hard to accomplish that kind of goal,” he told AFP.

China was certain to reduce the number of military regions, he said, although the issue was sensitive with top brass.

“If you cut many military regions, many slots will be cut,” he explained, adding that reducing them to five was “probably the most the military can accept”.

The China Daily quoted Ouyang Wei, a professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, saying a joint command system would increase the military’s speed in responding to an emergency.

“The system, which has been popular in the West for decades, is not (aimed at) starting a war, but to kill it in the cradle,” he told the paper.

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a simmering territorial row over Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu Islands.

China has for years had double-digit increases in its official military budget, and Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, said the country will focus on improving its high-tech sea, air and nuclear arsenals.

China’s navy - by adding aircraft carriers and stronger fleets - was likely to be the highest priority.

“China has built an iron bastion in its border regions,” he told China Daily. “The major concern lies at sea.”

Zhao Xiaozhuo, of the PLA Academy of Military Science, told the paper that contingencies at sea were viewed as ever more likely.

“An increasingly efficient military will not necessarily be a more aggressive one,” he was quoted as saying. “China has made its peaceful stand clear, but it is time to improve its combat ability.”

Japan announced last month it will buy stealth fighters, drones and submarines as part of a splurge on military hardware that will beef up the defence of its far-flung southern islands.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet agreed to spend 24.7 trillion yen ($237 billion) between 2014 and 2019 in a strategic shift towards the south and west of the country - a five percent boost to the military budget over five years.

The China Daily report came two days after Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that China was considering reducing the number of military regions to five.

The planned revamp would mark a shift away from the current army-focused, defence-oriented military to one that ensured more mobile and integrated management of the army, navy, air force and strategic missile units, Yomiuri said.