China’s President Xi Jinping has ordered the military region responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to assess the situation it is facing and boost its capabilities so it can handle any emergency.
The Southern Theatre Command has had to bear a “heavy military responsibility” in recent years, state broadcaster CCTV quoted him as saying during an inspection tour made on Thursday as part of his visit to Guangdong province.
“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.
“We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.”
Details of his speech were not released to the public by state media until Friday.
Xi’s visit to the military command was one of several he made during a four-day trip to the south China province aimed at bolstering confidence amid an economic slowdown, and growing trade and strategic disputes with the United States.
Details of his speech came a day after China’s State Councillor General and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said the country would never give up “one single piece” of its territory and warned that “repeated challenges” to its sovereignty over Taiwan were extremely dangerous and would result in military action.
One of the primary missions of the Southern Theatre Command is overseeing the South China Sea, an area where tensions and military activity involving China, the US and other powers have been growing steadily.
Earlier this month, a Chinese destroyer almost collided with a US warship in the disputed waters after making what the Americans described as an “unsafe and unprofessional” manoeuvre in an attempt to warn it to leave the area.
Military observers said Xi’s comments were most likely intended to boost morale and reiterate Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“It’s likely intended as a signal to the US in particular and any parties that Beijing perceives to be causing provocation [in the disputed waters],” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Beijing-based analyst Zhou Chenming took a similar view.
“The United States is expected to conduct more freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea region, and because it does not recognise [Beijing’s] rights to artificial islands, like Mischief Reef, there will probably be more military friction between the two countries there.”
Koh said Xi’s address to the Southern Theatre Command was also a clear warning to pro-independence forces in Taiwan, as the military region shared responsibility with the Eastern Theatre Command for monitoring the self-ruled island.
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party was elected Taiwan’s president in 2016.