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Xi Jinping Orders Military to ‘Enhance Combat Readiness’ After U.S. Travel Warning

China's aircraft carrier sails past Taiwan as tensions rise
AFP/File Anthony WALLACE
FRANCES MARTEL

Chinese state media announced Friday that Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to “enhance their combat readiness,” without elaborating what threat has made preparation for combat so urgent.

The announcement followed threats from Xi himself that the Chinese state would not reject the use of force if necessary to invade and capture the nation of Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province. It also follows remarks from the Pentagon that its prime concern is China’s military activities and a warning for Americans from the State Department to avoid traveling to China if possible because police can arbitrarily detain them at any time.

Xi reportedly addressed the nation’s Central Military Commission (CMC) on Friday, demanding troops be ready for imminent combat at all times. According to a press release published by China’s Defense Ministry, Xi ordered “the entire armed forces” to “have a correct understanding of China’s security and development trends, enhance their awareness of danger, crisis and war, and make solid efforts on combat preparations.”

“The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development,” Xi asserted. The president, who is also the nation’s commander-in-chief, “ordered all work, forces and resources to focus on military preparedness and ensure a marked progress in this regard.”

China’s People’s Daily, the official publication of the Communist Party, reported Thursday that the PLA has begun an extensive “realistic training exercise” with live fire in Shandong, eastern China. The publication did not specify what the objective of this live-fire exercise was, nor did Chinese agencies report whether Xi mentioned any particular acts to improve combat readiness that the PLA either has already begun to take or will do so in the future.
That same day, the Chinese state-run Global Times highlighted comments by acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, who told reporters that his top priorities were “China, China, China.” The publication warned American officials against anti-Chinese “paranoia” while also threatening to make America “pay an unbearable price if the U.S. infringes on China.”
“When Shanahan shouts ‘China, China, China,’ Beijing must respond by accelerating construction of a deterrent against the U.S. China must make good use of deterrence, learning to make others feel fearful without being furious,” the column suggested.

Xi has issued public remarks on several occasions this week – first to herald in the new year, then to issue threats to Taiwan to surrender to Chinese rule or expect military action. In that speech, Xi stated, “we make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures,” he also said, according to the Times.

“Reunification is a historical trend and it is the right path. Taiwan independence is an adverse current of history and is a dead end,” Xi said, adding a subtle note to the United States that “foreign interference is intolerable.”

Xi may have also issued remarks to prepare for combat in response to the State Department warning on Thursday that Americans who travel to China are at risk of arbitrary and indefinite detention. The department urged Americans to avoid travel to China if at all possible because the Communist Party uses exit bans to keep U.S. citizens in their country. The risk is higher for dual American-Chinese citizens of Americans of Chinese (majority Han or otherwise) ethnic descent, as China often does not recognize their U.S. citizenship and will deny them the right to contact the U.S. embassy.

“U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security,'” the travel warning read. “Security personnel may detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.”

The travel warning may have a significant impact on tourism to China, already hampered by the ongoing trade negotiations between Beijing and Washington. Conversely, however, Chinese tourism to the United States also fell last year, with a particularly steep decline in National Day vacations to the U.S. in September, partly due to tension between the two countries and partly due to the sluggish state of China’s financial sector. A survey published this week found that China’s manufacturing sector contracted in the December, a sign that trade negotiations have significantly damaged the state of the nation’s economy.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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