China's President Xi Jinping ordered the military region responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to "assess the situation it is facing and boost its capabilities so it can handle any emergency" as tensions continue to mount over the future of the South China Sea and Taiwan, while diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing hit rock bottom.
The Southern Theatre Command has had to bear a “heavy military responsibility” in recent years, state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as saying during an inspection tour made on Thursday as part of his visit to Guangdong province.
“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly. “We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war” the president-for-life added.
According to the South China Morning Post, Xi’s visit to the military command was one of several he made during a four-day trip to the south China province aimed at bolstering confidence amid an economic slowdown, and growing trade and strategic disputes with the United States.
Xinhua reports President Xi “stressed the need to focus on combat research and commanding, to advance work in all areas and accelerate developing strong and efficient joint-operation commanding institutions for theatre commands to comprehensively boost the military’s battle-winning ability.”
The president instructed the military to ramp-up opposition to ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises being undertaken by the US, Australia, France, the UK, Japan and others through the waterway through which arterial shipping lanes have grown since the end of World War II.
“He ordered the troop to keep a close watch for changes in the situations and to strengthen analysis to firmly protect border stability and safety of the people’s life and property,” Xinhua reported Xi as saying.
“After hearing a report on their work, he underlined the importance of preparing for war and combat, while taking consideration of various complex situations, improving response plans and focusing on real-combat training.”
Xi’s words represent a significant ramp-up in the rhetoric between Beijing and Washington. China has been angered by US sanctions on its military for buying weapons from Russia, and by what Beijing sees as renewed Washington support for democratic Taiwan. Earlier this month, US Vice-President Mike Pence took the tensions between Washington and Beijing to a new level: “Using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning ploughshares into swords on a massive scale,” he said.
Meanwhile, the US recently sailed two warships through the Taiwan strait, claiming "freedom of navigation", and further angering China.
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According to Australia's News.com.au, President Xi was not the only ruling Communist Party member to up the ant last week. State Councillor General and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said that Beijing would never give up “one single piece” of its territory. He warned that “repeated challenges” to China’s sovereignty over Taiwan would lead to military action.
As for Xi's surprisingly sharp warning, the SCMP quoted military observers as saying President Xi’s words were likely aimed at an internal audience, boosting morale in the face of growing economic and international pressures.
“It’s likely intended as a signal to the US in particular and any parties that Beijing perceives to be causing provocation,” Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said.
That said, the Beijing-based military analyst said he expected further clashes to come in the South China Sea.
“The United States is expected to conduct more freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea region, and because it does not recognise (Beijing’s) rights to artificial islands, like Mischief Reef, there will probably be more military friction between the two countries there,” the Post quoted him as saying.
Earlier this month a Chinese destroyer almost rammed a US warship in an effort to force it to leave disputed waters. Shortly after the event, the Chinese defense ministry criticised the US for “gravely threatening China’s sovereignty and security, severely damaging relations between the two militaries and significantly undermining regional peace and stability”.
Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry said it had ‘expressed concern’ at the recent passage of two US warships through the narrow water way between China and Taiwan.
“China has closely followed the passing of US warships through the Taiwan Strait and monitored the whole process,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “We urge the US to strictly abide by the three China-US joint communiques and properly handle Taiwan-related issues so as to avoid impairing bilateral relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
So far any and all Chinese warnings and threats have fallen on deaf ears.