Strengthening training and preparation for war are among the top priorities for China’s military in 2019, its official newspaper said on Tuesday.
“Drilling soldiers and war preparations are the fundamental jobs and work focus of our military, and at no time should we allow any slack in these areas,” the PLA Daily said in its New Year’s Day editorial.
“We should be well prepared for all directions of military struggle and comprehensively improve troops’ combat response in emergencies … to ensure we can meet the challenge and win when there is a situation.”
Other priorities outlined in the editorial included thorough planning and implementation to develop the military, fostering reform and innovation, and party building within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
President Xi Jinping, who also heads the military, has been pushing the PLA to boost its combat readiness since he took the top job in late 2012. Observers said stepping up drills could be about flexing the PLA’s military muscle, but spelling it out at the start of the year also suggested it was a more important part of the plan for 2019.
“During the 20 years I spent in the PLA before I left in 2004, military training to boost combat readiness was always one of our top tasks,” said Zeng Zhiping, a retired lieutenant colonel and military analyst based in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.
“But this is something different. When training and preparation for war is highlighted at the beginning of a year it means this is a plan for the whole year, although we don’t know what the real intention behind the rhetoric is at this stage.”
Taiwan’s former deputy defence minister Lin Chong-Pin said it was about showing the PLA’s military strength.
“Prioritising military training and preparation for war is nothing more than a move to boost its diplomatic strength, which the PLA has been emphasising over the past four decades – though it has never gone into battle with any other country during that time,” Lin said.
“This comes at a time when the US has increased pressure on China with a series of military operations. But listen, I’m 100 per cent sure that the PLA will not be waging any war, no matter whether it’s in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. It will only become more cautious when it starts rising more rapidly.”
Meanwhile, at least 38 senior colonels were promoted to the rank of major general in late December, according to local media and Chinese military watchers.
Lin said they were carefully selected by the president himself. “These new major generals were definitely hand-picked by Xi – he intends to build his own army, or the so-called Xi force,” Lin said.
Of those promoted to major general, nine were from the PLA’s ground forces, four were from the air force, three were from the rocket force and 22 from the People’s Armed Police Force.
The military has undergone major upheaval and reform during the past six years, with dozens of generals brought down amid an unprecedented anti-corruption campaign.
They include top generals Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both former Central Military Commission vice-chairmen, Fang Fenghui, who was the PLA chief of staff, and Zhang Yang, former head of the PLA’s General Political Department.