Singapore: Chinese President Xi Jinping has authorised an expansion of his country’s military capabilities, giving the defence forces the power to protect its interests abroad.
The order, which comes into effect on Wednesday, has been described by state media as a trial and focuses on expanding “military operations other than war”. The United States has had a similar program since 1993 and China’s Academy of Military Science has had a proposal for enhancing the Chinese military’s peacetime activities since Xi came to power in 2013.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has given the defence forces a go ahead to protect the country’s interests abroad.Credit:AP
Xinhua reported that the six-chapter order would provide a legal basis for expanding the military’s peacetime activities to protect “property, and maintaining national sovereignty, security, development interests, and regional stability”.
The development is in line with Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific, where it recently acquired the power to defend its investments in Solomon Islands by force through a security deal with Honiara. It also comes as geopolitical tensions with the US rise and threats towards Taiwan increase. Disputes over the Taiwan Strait have been marked by grey-zone activities, including harassment of Taiwan’s airspace by dozens of Chinese fighter pilots and cyberattacks on infrastructure in Taipei.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles had lunch with Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi on Tuesday in Tokyo for the first of two 90-minute meetings. The Taiwan Strait, the Pacific and Japanese-Australian military cooperation were expected to dominate the agenda.
Given China’s tactics, rising ambitions in the Pacific and recent threats to Australian aircraft in the South China Sea, Australian government officials remain wary of the depth of recent Chinese overtures despite a meeting on Sunday between Marles and Chinese Defence Minster Wei Fenghe.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was hopeful the positive meeting would lead to concrete steps.
“It is always a good thing that people have dialogue and have discussion. It’s been something that’s been missing in the last few years,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
“China needs to remove the sanctions that they have put in place. There’s no reason for them to be there.”
Albanese also said he had responded to a message from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang congratulating him on his election win three weeks ago. His office would not clarify when he sent his response to Beijing.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.Credit:Bianca De Marchi/The Sun Herald
The Chinese Academy of Military Science said in its 2013 proposal that non-war military activities were an important strategic means for achieving the nation’s political intention and an “effective means for supporting the expansion of interests”.
“Defeating the enemy’s troops without fighting is the supreme state of military conflict,” it said.
Members of a People’s Liberation Army ceremonial band march at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party on July 1 this year at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Credit:Getty
“Under some circumstances, the activities will have the military dominating, with cooperation from local governments; under other circumstances, the local government will predominate, with cooperation from the military,” the academy said.
“Non-war military activities that are carried out abroad, involving foreign militaries, also require establishing coordinated and cooperative relationships with the civilian and military departments of these countries and with international organisations.”
The missions could include counterterrorism, protecting China’s rights and interests abroad, disaster relief, security alerts, international peacekeeping and rescues, according to the academy.
The academy said that the non-war activities would help to establish an “excellent image for the military and the country” but warned that “forces with ulterior motives or foreign media” could create a public relations problem by slandering the activities.
In extreme cases, the academy said the military and armed police must carry out unified management and control over public opinion.
“When necessary, one should also place controls and limitations on foreign media’s news broadcasts,” it said.
It remains unclear how many of the academy’s proposals will make it into the final six chapters, which have not been made public.
Xi’s order follows rising competition between the US and China as Beijing becomes the largest military player in Asia, and a direct competitor in the Indo-Pacific. China now has 1.9 million troops and 350 naval ships. America has 1.3 million troops and 249 naval ships but far outguns China on warplanes, missiles and nuclear warheads. That has left the People’s Liberation Army with a large force, huge expenses, and little combat experience as it prepares for the possibility of conflict over Taiwan in the coming decades.
Craig Singleton, a former US diplomat and a senior China fellow at the hawkish Washington think-tank the Foundation for Defence of Democracies said China’s slowing economy was also a factor as it battled to maintain its COVID-zero policy.
“For the first time in a while, China’s state-owned enterprises, provincial and local governments, private companies, and citizens will be forced to compete for a piece of a pie that is no longer growing,” he said.
“Over the long term, China could be forced to choose among certain core missions, such as monitoring China’s coast, building up its South China Sea outposts, maintaining its air defence identification zone, and even protecting its unruly borders. Either way, China’s military will be forced to do more with less.”
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