Xi wants to boost arms development

Bid to beef up combat readiness as China flexes muscles across region

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged faster development of advanced new military equipment to help build a strong army as the country steps up an ambitious modernisation plan that has rattled nerves across the region.

Speaking at a two-day conference of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), Mr Xi said military reforms should be "guided by the objective of building a strong army", the official Xinhua news agency said late on Thursday.

"Advanced weaponry is the marker of a modern army and a crucial support for national security and rejuvenation," it cited Mr Xi as saying.

"Equipment systems are now in a period of strategic opportunities and at a key point for rapid development."

Mr Xi hinted that the PLA should have achieved considerable modernisation by 2021, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

He has been pushing to strengthen the fighting ability of the nation's 2.3 million-strong armed forces as they project power across disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.

China has developed emerging stealth fighter technology and anti-satellite missiles. It now has one aircraft carrier in operation and is planning more.

Defence spending this year is set to rise by 12.2 per cent to 808.2 billion yuan (S$172 billion), a figure that many governments and analysts say is not representative of the country's true defence outlays, reported Reuters.

Mr Xi said new weapons must be "innovative, practical and forward-thinking to meet the demands of actual combat and fill in the weak spots of China's existing equipment".

"Military officers at all levels should play a leading role and use combat-like conditions to guide soldiers to improve their capacity to operate weapons," he said.

Summing up Mr Xi's speech, General Xu Qiliang, who is vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission headed by the president, said the personnel responsible for equipping the PLA must approach their job with new ideas, devise new strategies, find new solutions to problems, strengthen the outfitting of the forces and develop a new sort of army.

China's armed forces, the world's largest, came under criticism earlier this year from serving and retired officers as well as state media, who questioned whether they were too corrupt to win a war.

Part of Mr Xi's much-vaunted campaign against deep-rooted graft has targeted the military.

In October, the government said retired general Xu Caihou, one of China's most senior former military officers, had confessed to taking "massive"bribes in exchange for help in promotions.