In his first order of the new year to the country’s armed forces, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the need for “full-time combat readiness” and said the People’s Liberation Army must use frontline frictions to polish troop capabilities.
Xi, who also chairs China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), the top command body, said the PLA must be ready to “act at any second” as the country’s armed forces kicked off the year’s military training and exercises on Monday.
He also ordered the PLA to “substantially increase” the use of technology in its exercises, and to keep up with the latest developments in military and hi-tech knowledge. These included the use of computer simulations and online combat in drills, as well as exploration of more opportunities to add hi-tech and the internet – known as tech+ and web+ – in training.
“[The PLA must] increase the integration of new equipment, new forces and new combat realms into training and combat systems,” he said.
Notably, Xi’s remarks about the PLA’s current “frontline military struggles” were a departure from previous year-opening orders – including 2020 – which instructed the armed forces to “manage crises and deter war”.
While he did not specify the frontline struggles, 2020 saw the worst conflict in decades with India, in the southwestern border region, which led to more than 20 Indian deaths and an undisclosed number of Chinese casualties. The two sides remain locked in a prolonged stand-off in the frozen Himalayas.
The PLA also stepped up exercises and air force fly-by operations targeting Taiwan during 2020, as its navy continued to counter US navy patrols in the South China Sea while military tensions between Beijing and Washington reached a new high.
Since taking over as president and head of the CMC in late 2012, Xi has consistently pushed the PLA to be prepared for war. He also initiated a massive overhaul of the PLA in 2015 to modernise the Chinese military, planned for completion in 2020.
Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said Xi’s 2021 order showed the leadership was intending to take all measures to upgrade the PLA’s capability of winning a war. “China is indeed facing a great risk of war, which has been seriously implied in this order,” he said.
The PLA had increasingly adopted the use of simulators to imitate real equipment, connecting them online so that a drill could be as “real” and intense as possible, under its tech+ and web+ strategy.
“Exercises in a new era must be diversified and equipped with hi-tech, even war games,” Song said.
In the order, Xi also emphasised that military exercises must highlight cooperation across forces to forge joint operation capabilities, and the safety of soldiers in training must be well managed.
The PLA, as the military force of the Communist Party of China, must “resolutely implement” the orders from the CMC and CPC, to mark the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding on July 1 with “excellent performances”, he said.