Chinese dictator Xi Jinping on Monday issued orders to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare to “act at any second” and maintain “full-time combat readiness,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported Tuesday.
Xi previously tightened his personal control of the PLA, using his position as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) to appoint loyal officers and clean out suspect personnel under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign.
State news agency Xinhua described the orders as part of an effort to tighten Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control of the nation’s military and to prepare it for future conflicts:
Upholding the Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces and focusing on combat capabilities, the regulations stipulated the guiding principles, leadership, responsibilities and structures of the committees in detail. At the same time, it sets requirements for its members.
The regulations will enhance the role of Party organizations in the armed forces and help with the Party’s goal of strengthening the military in the new era and building world-class armed forces.
The order comes as China makes a series of moves to improve its military capabilities amid several international spats with its neighbors over its territorial claims, which have prompted tense military encounters, including firefights. With particular respect to its border dispute with India, a string of defeats displayed China’s unpreparedness for armed conflict.
Last June, the PLA suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Indian military after the Chinese troops reportedly established a Himalayan encampment on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto Sino-Indian border. The deadly clash saw Indian troops clash with the PLA using clubs, sticks wrapped in barbed wire, and other crude weapons, eventually driving Chinese troops off of a cliff and reportedly inflicting twice the casualties on the PLA as they themselves sustained.
Use of firearms at the border had been banned by China and India, though the latter rescinded the order in the wake of the clash, which eventually prompted cross-border firefights that had not been seen in decades.
India’s triumph in June allowed New Delhi to solidify its grip on the area, seizing the high ground around Pangong Tso, a mountain lake straddling the Sino-Indian border, and fortifying their position in Ladakh, the Indian border province which has largely been host to the combatant forces.
The debacle in the Himalayas came as an embarrassment for the PLA. Reports that Xi would purge the military over the Indian setbacks came to fruition when Xi ousted Gen. Zhao Zongqi as head of the PLA’s Western Theater Command. Zhao had overseen the PLA’s unsuccessful efforts against India.
Adding to the personnel changes and Xi’s recent orders are reports that China has been constructing military camps along the the Indian border since an earlier border dispute in 2017. Though the camps include civilian occupants, their primary purpose is reportedly to ensure the PLA can swiftly respond to further border escalations.
Apart from its fight with India, China has stoked tensions with its other neighbors, including Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea prompted a severe repudiation from Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in his September speech to the United Nations. Duterte resolutely stood against its maritime claims, citing international court rulings denouncing the Chinese position.
Japan, faced with comparable belligerence from Beijing, entered into a military cooperation pact with India in September 2020.
In early December, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu noted that continued Chinese hostility presented a “real prospect” of a military clash with the mainland power.
The multitude of disputes with its neighbors renders the PLA’s buildup and Xi’s orders all the more ominous. Military commentator Song Zhongping told the SCMP that “China is indeed facing a great risk of war, which has been seriously implied in this order.”