At a moment the Pentagon is warning Beijing about its heightened military maneuvers around Taiwan, China's President Xi Jinping has just signed an order which fundamentally expands the conditions under which People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops can be deployed.
The freshly signed and promulgated order introduces a legal framework to deploy troops in "non-war military actions" which takes effect Wednesday, according to state media. It could have significant repercussions for tensions with the US and Washington allies like Australia or Japan in places like the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, given the order loosens the conditions under which it's possible to initiate "military operations other than war" which involves operations that do not explicitly involve direct conflict or combat.
According to a list in state-run Global Times, the Xi-backed initiative will seek to standardize usage of PLA troops in non-military situations such as the following:
"disaster relief, humanitarian aid, escort, and peacekeeping, and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests..."
And additionally, "The outlines aim to prevent and neutralize risks and challenges, handle emergencies, protect people and property, and safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, and world peace and regional stability, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday."
Concerning this last justification on the list (and perhaps taking a page from America's 'Global War on Terror/GWOT' playbook), it's the "counter-terrorism" angle that could perhaps prove most elastic, and up for wide interpretation as Beijing readies potential new ways to wield the PLA as a blunt and powerful force enacting policy.
As GT writes, "The Chinese armed forces are also responsible for counter-terrorism, anti-pirate and peacekeeping missions, including regular escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia as well as UN peacekeeping missions, providing public security goods to the international community, the expert said."
JUST IN - China's Xi orders the introduction of a legal framework to deploy troops in "non-war military actions." pic.twitter.com/b3zReb0dNt— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) June 13, 2022
"By carrying out these operations overseas, in some cases, the Chinese troops can prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel, analysts said, noting that this is likely why Xinhua described the outlines as being capable of safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests," the state media report adds.
The words "stability" and "instability" have precisely been applied to Taiwan of late, by both Beijing and Washington officials, while obviously supporting different sides of the 'independence' and sovereignty debate. In the latest example, on Sunday Bloomberg reported on a series of instances that Chinese officials have privately conveyed to their American counterparts that the Taiwan Strait does not constitute international waters, upping tensions given the Biden administration has been sailing navy warships through the contested waters on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile according to pro-Beijing pundits...
If Biden cannot accept the fact that Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia are all integral parts of China, his they/them army will have to face the might of the PLA. pic.twitter.com/yrUI6BNXvS— khan (@SameeraKhan) June 10, 2022
And prior to this, on Friday during the first ever face-to-face meeting between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and China's defense minister Wei Fenghe, the latter warned his American counterpart that Beijing will "not hesitate to start a war" if Taiwan declares independence. Wei had warned Austin that "if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost" - defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian quoted the minister as saying during the meeting.