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Xi invokes military might in veiled warning to US against war

President Xi Jinping also called for moves to expedite the modernisation of China's defence and armed forces.
President Xi Jinping also called for moves to expedite the modernisation of China's defence and armed forces.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • President Xi Jinping yesterday warned of China's military resolve to defeat "invaders", speaking on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, the only time Chinese forces have fought the US.

In a long speech, heavy on patriotism and flecked by anecdotes of heroism by Chinese forces, Mr Xi said victory in the 1950-53 conflict was a reminder that his nation stood ready to fight anyone "creating trouble... on China's doorstep".

Beijing often uses war anniversaries to fire thinly covered warnings to the United States of the military strength of the "new China".

The Korean War is a key foundation story for the ruling Communist Party. Yesterday's anniversary came a day after US President Donald Trump - who has sparked off a bitter row with Beijing spanning trade, technology, human rights and the status of Taiwan - sparred with his Democratic challenger Joe Biden on relations with China and trade, among other issues.

Without explicitly naming the US, Mr Xi loaded up with the historical precedent of the Korean War and took swings at modern-day "unilateralism, protectionism and extreme egoism".

"Chinese people don't create troubles, nor are we afraid of them," he said to applause. "We will never sit back and watch any damage to our national sovereignty... and we will never allow any force to invade or divide the sacred territory of the motherland."

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced it had agreed to sell more than US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) worth of missiles to self-governing Taiwan, the sharpest potential flashpoint with US forces.

According to the Chinese government, more than 197,000 Chinese soldiers died during the three-year Korean War, which saw the US-led United Nations coalition pushed back to the 38th parallel bisecting the Korean Peninsula, after China weighed in on the side of North Korea's communist army.

The war, essentially fought to a bloody stalemate, is hailed in China as a victory and an example of resilience and spirit against a more advanced foe.

"When China was very poor, it didn't surrender to US pressure," an editorial in the nationalist Global Times said this week. "Today, China has grown to be a strong country, so there is no reason for China to fear the US threats and suppression."

Chinese state media has unleashed a wave of propaganda with daily interviews with Chinese veterans who survived the war during prime-time news over the past week.

An action-thriller, Sacrifice, directed by three of the biggest names in Chinese cinema and depicting a small band of Chinese troops holding off US forces in the final days of the war, hit cinemas across the country yesterday.

By commemorating the anniversary, "China is declaring to the US that it was not afraid of the US in the past, and is still not afraid of the US now," said professor of international politics Shi Yinhong of Renmin University. "It's to prepare for a possible limited military conflict with the US."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Xi invokes military might in veiled warning to US against war'. Print Edition | Subscribe