BEIJING - China will complete the modernisation of its armed forces by 2035, and achieve a world-class military by 2050 that can fight and win wars across all theatres, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday (Oct 18).
Mr Xi, who has implemented significant structural reforms to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in his first term that had eluded his two predecessors, stressed that the transformation of the world's largest standing army will "gather momentum and persist" to meet China's evolving national needs.
Since becoming President and also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) in 2012, Mr Xi has trimmed and rebalanced the traditionally land-based PLA, restructured its top leadership to reduce their clout and centralise authority in himself. He even arrested two top generals who were vice-chairmen of the CMC for suspected corruption.
In April last year, Mr Xi was made commander-in-chief of a new joint command headquarters in a sign that he would exercise more direct control to get each arm of the restructured PLA to work closer together.
In his speech at the 19th Communist Party Congress on Wednesday, he also affirmed China's goal to "develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests", as its latest Defence White Paper stated.
The PLA's component land, air and naval forces must be able to operate jointly and "prevail in both conventional and new theatres of operation", said Mr Xi.
China has ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea, even though the waters are contested by other claimants, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In recent years, it has built landing strips, missile shelters and communications facilities on artificial islands it controls and increased its naval presence there, raising the spectre of unexpected clashes in the disputed waters.
The Pentagon estimated this year that China has added over 1, 295ha of land to reefs it holds in the South China Sea since 2013.
"We will speed up implementation of major projects, deepen reform of defence-related science, technology and industry, achieve greater military-civilian integration, and build integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities," Mr Xi said in the speech.
"China's dream of a strong national army will be realised," he added.