‘Prepare for war’: China hits back
Chairman Xi Jinping isn't pleased. Despite months of intense practice, his elite marine corps troops aren't up to scratch. So he's urged them to "focus your minds and energy on … war".
During an inspection on Tuesday of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Marine Corps in Chaozhou City, Guangdong, Xi told his troops: "Focus your minds and energy on preparing to go to war and stay highly vigilant."
Marines must be a "multifunctional, rapid response, all-weather and region" force, he pronounced. It was their "important responsibility" to safeguard Chinese territory, maritime interests and international interests.
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"Marines have many different missions, and the demands on you will vary. As such, marines should base your training on battle … and raise training standards and combat ability," he said.
This followed a 75th anniversary commemoration of the war against Japan where Xi declared China would never accept any force that sought to "bully" and "impose" its will on China.
The authoritarian leader's belligerence has fired up Communist Party-controlled state media.
"The (chances of the) Chinese mainland being forced into a war has risen sharply in recent times," the editor of Beijing-based Global Times declared last week.
"China must be militarily and morally ready for a potential war."
On Wednesday, the American destroyer USS Barry exercised its right under the international law of the sea to pass through the Taiwan Strait just days after a similar move near the disputed Paracel Islands. The Beijing-based CGTN network reacted by pronouncing it a provocation and violation of sovereignty.
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It's not the first time Chairman Xi has raised the prospect of war.
"A military is built to fight," he boldly declared at the 19th Communist Party Congress in October 2017. The People's Liberation Army must "regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work" and focus on "winning wars". He declared that by 2035, "modernisation of our national defence and our forces" will be "basically completed".
Xi has maintained a message of hostility and deadlines ever since.
And he's been eager to exercise that might.
China's military has begun to push long-established boundaries in the Himalayan mountains against India, Myanmar and Tibet. It's been challenging Japan in the East China Sea. It's continued its push for control over the South China Sea.
In May this year, Xi told his two-million-strong military that it must "prepare for worst-case scenarios, scale up training and battle preparedness, promptly and effectively deal with all sorts of complex situations and resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests".
In March, Xi told an audience in Beijing that China would "fight the bloody battle against our enemies" and not cede "a single inch of land" in regards to Hong Kong, Taiwan and its many unilateral territorial claims.
"We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies … with a strong determination to take our place in the world," he said. "The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence and every capability to triumph over all these separatist actions. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China."
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, now subject to Beijing's national security laws, reports Chinese military commentators interpreting the marine unit visit as a sign Xi was not pleased with its progress.
Amphibious shock troops will be the spearhead for any attempt to "reunify Taiwan with the mainland".
"Conducting amphibious operations in the Taiwan reunification plan is just one of the missions of the marine corps," Beijing-based naval specialist Li Jie said. "The marine corps needs to step up its modern warfare program, not only in terms of size but also in terms of hardware and software upgrades."
China's marine corps has been the subject of Beijing's most significant military investment in recent years. The number of troops has increased dramatically and a raft of modern new ships, tanks and aircraft built for their use.
Its forces have featured prominently in massive, ongoing military exercises aimed at intimidating the island democracy in recent months. Footage of the war-games was released at the weekend in a propaganda assault on Taiwan's Double Tenth holiday celebrating the foundation of the Republic of China in 1911.
Xi has reserved his most heated rhetoric for Taipei.
"We should safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and achieve full reunification of the motherland," he said in May. "This is the aspiration of all Chinese people, and this is also in line with the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation. Faced with this very important question of our nation and history, any action that aims to separate the country is doomed to fail."
'ALL UNDER HEAVEN'
Xi Jinping's vision of "A Community of Common Destiny for Mankind" has become a familiar refrain on state-controlled media and diplomatic circles.
"It is this idea of all under Heaven being one family that should guide the world's people so that we can embrace each other with open arms, come to understand each other, and create common ground while setting aside our differences," Xi pronounced in 2017.
It's a "community with a shared future for humanity" where the international rule of law is built on a foundation stone of Chinese characteristics, standards and wisdom. It's a major departure from Beijing's previous "Harmonious World … while reserving differences" approach.
Instead, analysts argue, it's now all about a Beijing-centric world.
"China's vision of a world order is one in which countries stand on their own and make their way in an international system as individuals," Bill Hayton, author of The Invention Of China, writes for the Lowy Institute. "This is clearly a vision in which big countries matter more than small or middle-size ones. It fits neatly with the idea of a regional, or even global, hierarchy - one in which Beijing sits at the top. It is a hierarchy open to all, so long as each knows its place."
And that has profound implications for the future, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) warns in a recent report.
"The ambitions articulated by Xi Jinping at the 19th Party Congress underscore that Washington and its allies face a global, strategic rivalry driven as much by ideology and values embodied in competing domestic governance systems as by perceptions of changing power dynamics," it said.
AGE OF EMPIRE
Since taking over the reins in 2012, Xi has enticed his people with a return to the glory days of its emperors. He's whipped up a nationalistic fervour through China's sense of history. He's promised an end to the so-called "century of humiliation" which began with defeat to Great Britain in the First Opium War of 1842. His goal is the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" by 2049 - the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Xi's been ruthless in his ambition.
Which may be why Xi stressed the need to uphold "the absolute Party leadership over the armed forces, ensuring that the military must be loyal, pure and reliable" in his speech to the marines on Tuesday.
The son of a party man, Xi has eliminated or silenced his political competitors and built a personality cult unlike any since the days of Chairman Mao Zedong.
The 66-year-old has removed term limits for the secretary-general from the constitution, essentially appointing himself leader-for-life. And he's been consolidating all branches of government - including the police - under his control.
Meanwhile, he's been keen to ensure "a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality" is stamped on his nation and its international standing.
'We have no intention to fight either a Cold War or a hot war with any country,' Xi told the United Nations 75th anniversary event held in September. No nation should "be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world," he said. "Let us join hands to uphold the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom shared by all of us and build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
Originally published as 'Prepare for war': China hits back