Chinese President Xi Jinping in an attempt to assert total authority over their modernizing armed forces called on “capable, brave and virtuous soldiers with soul” to lead the nation’s armed forces. Jinping spoke in the Great Hall of the People to mark the 90th Anniversary of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) and warned potential adversaries that China “will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time.”
It was Xi’s latest move to assert his authority ahead of the 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress in the fall, a crucial five-yearly meeting when key leadership positions are chosen. It also marks what should be the mid-point of Xi’s ten-year leadership term, which has been characterized by an ideological tightening and a crackdown on free speech.
Xi’s 50-minute address on Tuesday included several calls for the 2 million-strong armed forces to rally around the Party. “Our army will remain the army of the party and the people,” Xi said. “The army should increase its political awareness … and carry forwards and implement the Party’s absolute leadership.”
It was China’s largest parade since the 70th anniversary of the culmination of World War II in September 2015. Then, Xi announced a reduction of 300,000 troops and other high-level organizational changes aimed at transforming the PLA into a modern, sleek fighting force, with significant implications for global security. More than 100 high-ranking military officers have been punished for various offenses including corruption since Xi took office in 2012. Seven PLA regional commands have been consolidated into five “theaters” and its schools cut from 74 to 43.
“The force is modernizing very rapidly, probably more rapidly than most Westerners grasp,” says Lyle Goldstein, associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. “Across the board it’s hard to find any weaknesses.”
New missiles were on display in Inner Mongolia, including the road-mobile DF-31AG, a new variant of its DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile, as well as the the DF-16G and DF-26. The HQ-22 surface-to-air missile (SAM), the HQ-9 SAM, and the YJ-12A anti-ship missiles were also eagerly examined by cooing weapons experts. New generation aircraft on display included the Shenyang J-16 strike fighter and Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter. In April, China launched its first aircraft carrier and has long been reclaiming and militarizing islands in the South China Sea.
“In the long term, they have a vision for what kind of order they would like to see in Asia, and that’s clearly one where China has regional military dominance,” says Richard Weitz, director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Washington DC’s Hudson Institute. “Anything west of Hawaii they would like to have conventional superiority over any potential adversary.”
China’s projections beyond its borders have given them a greater piece of the pie in terms of combatting piracy and global terrorism. And as China continues to modernize and upgrade their military forces as they try to project their influence far beyond their borders. One area of the world they are quick to ignore…for now is the Middle East.
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