China wants peace but will fight for its territory: Xi

At an event marking 90 years since the founding of the People's Liberation Army, President Xi Jinping says China loves peace but will never compromise on defending its sovereignty.
Chinese paramilitary policemen outside the Great Hall of the People after commemorating the 90th anniversary of the PLA yesterday.
Chinese paramilitary policemen outside the Great Hall of the People after commemorating the 90th anniversary of the PLA yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Chinese leader stresses need for strong military at time when country's rise has increased its overseas interests

Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasised China's peaceful intentions, but also made it clear that the emerging superpower will not brook any threat to its territorial integrity, whether from the outside or within.

Speaking at a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), he also emphasised the Communist Party of China's (CCP's) leadership over the military, intimating there is room for greater support from the army's leaders to the political leadership.

Mr Xi, who heads the Central Military Commission that oversees the PLA, stressed the need to build a strong military at a time when China's rise has increased its overseas interests.

"The Chinese people love peace. We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions," said Mr Xi.

Some analysts, like Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believe this is aimed at countries with which China has territorial disputes, including India, Japan as well as several countries in South-east Asia.

Relations between China and India are currently tense as soldiers from the two sides face off in the Doklam plateau - known as Donglang to the Chinese - where the two powers share borders with the tiny kingdom of Bhutan.

In his speech, Mr Xi also said: "We will never allow any people, organisation or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form.

FIERCELY PROTECT

We will never allow any people, organisation or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form. No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests.

CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING, on guarding what is China's domain.

"No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests."

While Mr Xi did not specify any group, Defence Minister Chang Wanquan had in a speech on Monday made reference to Taiwan and said the PLA is "confident, capable and fully prepared to resolutely safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Analysts believe Mr Xi was referring mainly to Taiwan.

Cross-strait tension has risen since Ms Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, won the Taiwan presidential election last year. She has failed to acknowledge the 1992 consensus that both China and Taiwan belong to one China, with each side having a different interpretation of what this means. China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be united with the motherland.

Beijing also faces a new separatist movement in Hong Kong that came to the fore after the failure of the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014 to gain greater democratic freedoms for the city.

Yesterday, Mr Xi also stressed the leadership of the CCP over the PLA. While this is not unusual, the emphasis on it was stronger than usual.

He invoked communist China's founding father Mao Zedong's words, saying: "Comrade Mao once pointed out - our principle is that the party commands the gun and the gun must never be allowed to command the party."

This emphasis together with his stress on the need for the military to "guard the bottom line" - prepare for the worst-case scenario - referred to internal security, said security analyst Wang Xiangsui of Beihang University.

"In maintaining internal stability, (the PLA) must obey the command of the party and not be manipulated by other political forces," he said.

Prof Li said the emphasis on the party's leadership over the military shows that the CCP's leaders believe there is some room for the military to provide stronger support to the political leadership.

Mr Xi's speeches over the past few days and at the activities to commemorate the PLA's 90th anniversary, including a military parade in the country's largest military base Zhurihe, had a clear message, said Prof Li.

It was that the Chinese people "should be proud now that their country is becoming stronger... and have confidence in China's future and China's political leadership".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'China wants peace but will fight for its territory: Xi'. Print Edition | Subscribe