Xi Jinping Raises the Bar on PLA “Combat Readiness”

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping

General Secretary and Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping lost no time in establishing his stamp of authority over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is deemed an important power base of the new leader.

Barely two months after he took over the chairmanship of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC) from President Hu Jintao, Xi has passed a series of regulations on “administering the army with strictness and austerity.” The 59-year-old Xi has with lightning speed presided over a large-scale reshuffle of senior staff in the four general departments as well as the seven military regions (MRs). More significantly, the CMC chief has put significantly more emphasis than his predecessors on combat readiness, reiterating that it is the calling of every solider to fight and win wars.

A much-enhanced degree of combat readiness was the theme of Xi’s visit to the Guangzhou MR last month. It also is significant that the official media used the term Guangzhou Zhanqu [literally Guangzhou War Theater] to describe the military region.

In Xi’s first regional inspection trip, the CMC chairman vowed to “comprehensively strengthen military construction from the point of view of being more revolutionary, more modernized and more institutionalized.” He told officers and soldiers to “to firmly remember that following the party’s instructions is the soul of a strong army, while the ability to fight and to win wars is the quintessence of a strong army”

Military chiefs from ex-president Jiang Zemin to Hu routinely have called upon the top military leadership to “prepare for military struggle.” Xi, however, was the first Commander-in-Chief to spell out in no uncertain terms that the PLA must “push forward preparations for military struggle through insisting on using the criteria of actual combat…We must ceaselessly boost the idea that soldiers join the PLA to fight, and that [the calling of] officers is to lead soldiers in combat and to train them for [real] warfare.”

In Guangzhou, Xi also said “We must train our troops with tough and strict criteria which are based on the needs of actual combat.” He reiterated that the “core” of the PLA’s multi-dimensional military tasks was “the ability to win regional warfare under IT-oriented conditions.” Indeed, since the end of the Maoist era, Xi is the first PLA chief to have given such graphic instructions about the army’s constant combat readiness: “We must ensure that our troops are ready when called upon, that they are fully capable of fighting, and that they must win every war”

Xi’s hard-line remarks were repeated by the “Instruction on Military Training in 2013” that was issued by the GSD earlier this week. The Instruction asked all military staff to “bolster their ideological [commitment] to engaging in combat.” Officers and soldiers were asked to “do well in preparations for fighting wars” and “to train the troops under difficult and severe conditions and based on the requirements of actual combat.” The document also read “We must raise our ability in fighting wars and in solving major difficulties that affect training in actual combat.”

There seems little doubt that as Chinese military commentators have pointed out, the recent flexing of military muscle—and thinly veiled threats of actual combat—is integral to enhanced psychological warfare particularly in view of exacerbated confrontation with Japan over the Diaoyu-Senkaku archipelago.

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