Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for greater focus on military development

Eduardo Baptista, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 01 2021 07:49 AM

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a greater focus on national defence and the military in a speech given on the eve of an important military anniversary and as the nation faces a growing range of security risks.

After giving a spirited speech on the achievements of China's Communist Party during its centennial celebrations earlier this month, Xi said on Friday: "On the path of completely building a modern socialist country and realising the second centennial goal, national defence and the military must be placed in a more important position, and the consolidation of national defence and a strong military must be accelerated.

"We must persist in strengthening the overall planning of war and make preparations for military struggle."

Xi's comments on the military's development were made two days before the PLA's 94th anniversary and come at a time when China is facing heightened security risks.

On China's western borders, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to a resurgence of the Taliban and instability in the region, which Beijing fears could give Uygur separatists a base from which to conduct attacks in the Xinjiang region.

To the east, tensions are growing as the US and its allies conduct more naval operations on waters China claims as its own.

On Friday, US Marine Corps jets were pictured on the British aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. Earlier this month, Beijing criticised the US for landing a military plane on Taiwan and Japan for releasing a defence white paper that expressed alarm at China's increased military activities around the self-ruled island.

Xi did not mention any country besides China during the Politburo group study session on Friday, according to the report from state news agency Xinhua.

However, he did give specific indications about where the military needed to focus its energies and emphasised the need for technological development.

"It is necessary to promote high-level scientific and technological self-reliance, accelerate research on key core technologies, accelerate the development of strategic, cutting-edge and disruptive technologies," Xi said.

Reports on Politburo study sessions are often used a "platform ... to convey preferences and priorities to lower-level officials and the general Chinese public", according to an article by Brian Hart, an associate fellow with the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The 25-member Politburo is the party's most powerful body and conducts around eight group study sessions a year. Hart's article, published by the Jamestown Foundation think tank, also noted that Xi had held more than twice the number of study sessions focused on military and security affairs than his predecessor Hu Jintao did.

In a separate article for the party journal Qiushi, Xi also ordered the army to be "absolutely loyal" to the party. He also argued that the party's absolute leadership was one of the Chinese military's advantages.

Since taking over as president and head of the Central Military Commission eight years ago, 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.

Xi's priorities were made clear on Friday when he called on the "entire party and entire country" to work to realise the military's long-term goals. The military's needs would have to be considered when laying out plans for societal and economic development, Xi said.

"It is necessary to ... rigidly implement national defence requirements in the construction of major infrastructure and provide strong support to construction projects for combat readiness training."

Xi had earlier ordered the Chinese military to increase the use of technology in its training and exercises, including computer simulations.

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