At the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping secured a third term as leader and also appointed new loyal members to the military leadership. The Chinese communist leader’s concern to strengthen the People’s Liberation Army was embodied in the speech he gave at the opening ceremony. Xi said, “Risks and challenges are simultaneous and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are increasing.” The war with Russia showed the polarization of global power, with NATO, the United States, and Europe in alliance with Ukraine, leaving the military weaknesses of the Russian military on full display and alerting the CCP to the possibilities of a similar scenario.
Several U.S. military intelligence reports showed the real state of the People’s Liberation Army, despite the changes made by Xi since his rise to power a decade ago. Senior military commanders have yet to make a breakthrough with the forces.
Xi’s speech at the Congress revealed the communist regime’s fears of any advance or eventuality of attacking China’s sovereignty, such as the situation in the Taiwan Strait, or social instability.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan generated PLA retaliation on the island, and alerted the world to what the regime intends in the future: To advance on Taiwan. For Xi, rejuvenating the nation is a top priority for the next five years, and Taiwan is an important factor in this plan.
Xi said, “Resolving the Taiwan issue is a Chinese issue, an issue to be resolved by the Chinese. We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and maximum effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures.”
He added, “This is aimed solely at the interference of outside forces and the few separatists seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and their separatist activities; in no way is it aimed at our Taiwan compatriots.”
Given that the Chinese leader stressed that he wants peaceful reunification, but will not forego using force, how will Xi succeed in strengthening the country’s military force to invade Taiwan?
After the 20th Congress, Xi appointed military experts with Fujian experience and promoted them to key positions. However, since last year, he has to deal with some unexpected issues that force him to use the military, such as outbreaks of COVID in different regions and growing social unrest. Protests against the restrictions are becoming more frequent. One of the orders given was to ensure social stability and order in the army.
Moreover, the modernization of the military is key for Xi. He knows very well that if he decides to invade Taiwan, the PLA is not prepared to face a military operation of such magnitude.
Although the CCP has announced advances in aircraft carriers, hypersonic missiles, and other military technologies, the PLA has a significant shortage of professionals, engineers, pilots, and other specialists to lead advanced training in all army forces.
Tensions in the Indo-Pacific, sanctions from Europe and the United States, new partnerships emerging to counter the influence of the Chinese regime, such as QUAD and AUKUS, reflect the CCP’s weakening geopolitical situation.
Against this backdrop, it is imperative for Xi that progress in modernizing the armed forces be achieved quickly.
‘Ready for war’
Following the 20th Party Congress, Xi’s message to the armed forces continued to be repeated in the communist regime’s state media.
According to state broadcaster CCTV Xi said, “The task of military struggle is arduous and heavy.”
“All armed forces should … focus on combat capability as the fundamental and sole criterion, concentrate all energy on waging war, direct all work toward war, and accelerate to develop the ability to win.”
In addition, addressing senior commanding officers, he said the PLA must be “absolutely loyal, good at planning wars, efficient in command, and dare to win.”
The plan for the modernization of China’s military forces presented by Xi at the 20th Congress involves a three-stage development, with a series of targets set for 2027, 2035, and 2049, which has been in place since 2020.
The report focused on the PLA to become “fully modern,” or capable of joint operations with the most advanced technology in all domains by 2035; and to achieve “world-class” supremacy, that is on par with the United States, by 2049 when it would mark the 100th anniversary of the the Chinese Communist Party.
Xi stressed that China must strengthen “strategic deterrence capabilities.” He was referring to nuclear weapons and non-nuclear systems such as cyber weapons and missiles that can attack targets in space. The PLA is working on developing these systems and by 2030 will have quadrupled its nuclear arsenal.
Why does Xi attach so much importance to these strategic deterrence capabilities? The Russia-Ukraine war showed, in the beginning, a Russia that had a strong military that had acquired a certain degree of modernization since the Cold War. However, with Ukraine’s advance, Russia’s position weakened until Putin threatened nuclear weapons. The tacit power behind a system of strategic deterrences as used by the Russian president is an example for the Chinese leader.
Some international analysts and China experts point out that Xi’s emphasis on being “ready for war” mainly referred to “local wars,” something the Chinese leader continued to tell the armed forces after the Party Congress.
Preparing and modernizing the PLA will take several years, therefore, according to Xi, the most important thing now is for the military to be able to deal with local crises and act strategically. The incursions into Taiwan airspace and the military exercises in the strait, following Nancy Pelosi’s visit, are an example of the military actions the PLA will continue to take.
Xi pointed out in the congressional report, “We will strengthen the normal and diversified use of military forces, carry out military struggles with determination and flexibility, shape the security posture, contain crises and conflicts, and win local wars.”