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Chinese President Xi Jinping gives army its first order of 2019: be ready for battle

By Mimi Lau From South China Morning Post

  • Armed forces must be ready for a ‘comprehensive military struggle from a new starting point’, leader says
  • Central Military Commission issues new guidelines to boost morale based on greater empathy and merit-based promotions
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday ordered the People’s Liberation Army to be ready for battle as the country faces unprecedented risks and challenges.

Xi’s speech was made at a meeting of top officials from the Central Military Commission (CMC), which he heads, and broadcast later on national television.

“All military units must correctly understand major national security and development trends, and strengthen their sense of unexpected hardship, crisis and battle,” he said.

At the meeting, Xi also signed off on the first military command of 2019, which will kick-start a year of enhanced military training and exercises.

China’s armed forces must “prepare for a comprehensive military struggle from a new starting point”, he said. “Preparation for war and combat must be deepened to ensure an efficient response in times of emergency.”

Xi has consistently pushed the PLA to boost its combat readiness since taking over as president and head of the CMC in late 2012, and that looks set to intensify through 2019.

Earlier in the week, PLA Daily, the official newspaper of China’s military, said in an editorial that “there was no time for slacking in war preparation”.

Similarly, the CMC issued a series of guidelines to boost morale, saying military personnel would be promoted on the basis of merit, and promising greater leniency and understanding for mistakes made in training.

Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said the recent “high-profile gestures” were probably intended as a warning to those who sought to obstruct the mainland’s plans for the reunification of Taiwan.

“[They] show how seriously Xi is taking China’s military training and its preparations for war, while also flexing its strength,” he said.

While Xi spoke of his desire for a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, few experts expect Beijing to ease the military pressure on the island, which it regards as a breakaway province.

According to a report by state broadcaster CCTV, the military command signed by Xi prioritises enhanced training, with the focus on combat readiness, drills, troop inspections and resistance exercises.

It applies to all units of the PLA, including troops, academies and armed police, and is designed to “ensure new challenges are met and battles are won”, according to a copy of the guidelines seen during the television report.

Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel, said that as well as the rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei, Xi’s rallying call to the military was a response to the growing uncertainty over the geopolitical struggle between China and the United States.

“China is increasing its military training so that it has the best solutions for the worst outcomes, either related to the US or across the [Taiwan] strait,” he said.

“Over the coming year, the US might use Taiwan and the South China Sea as bargaining chips to get what it wants from China with regards to the trade war,” he said.

“And there is always the possibility of increased independence calls from Taiwan.”

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