(CNSNews.com) – Marking the 90th birthday of the world’s largest military Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing does not seek aggression but would never allow any part of the country to split, and is confident the People’s Liberation Army will “defeat all invasions.”
“The Chinese people love peace,” he told a grand ceremony in Beijing. “We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions.”
“We will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form,” Xi continued. “No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests.”
He called for a new generation of “capable, brave and virtuous” soldiers, urging PLA troops to have “ironclad faith, beliefs, disciplines and responsibilities” and to be loyal to the Communist Party.
“To build a strong military,” the Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying, “[we] must unswervingly adhere to the party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces, and make sure that the people’s army always follow the party.”
The PLA on Tuesday marked its 90th birthday. Its origins date back to the Chinese communists’ first military clash against Nationalist (Kuomintang) Chinese forces, in the southern city of Nanchang on August 1, 1927.
At the time the Communist forces numbered some 20,000. Today, the PLA is around 2.2 million-strong, making it by a large margin the largest active military force in the world.
China also has the world’s second-biggest military budget – at $145 billion in 2016 way behind the U.S. ($604.5 billion), but also far ahead of third-placed Russia ($58.9 billion), according to the 2017 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ The Military Balance.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s events, Xi on Sunday attended a huge military parade on a training base – the largest in Asia – in northern China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
There he delivered a speech “urging further improvement of the PLA’s combat effectiveness and modernization of China’s national defense,” Xinhua reported.
“The world is far from tranquil and peace needs to be safeguarded,” he said.
“Today, we are closer than ever to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi said. “And more than any time in history, we need to build strong armed forces of the people.”
‘Fight and win at any time’
The PLA falls under the authority not of China’s defense ministry but the Central Military Commission (CMC), which Xi chairs. (China’s president is also general-secretary of the Communist Party’s central committee.)
At another 90th birthday event, Defense Minister Chang Wanquan told a reception attended by Xi Monday said the PLA stands ready “to fight and win at any time.”
Chang said under Xi’s leadership the PLA has been restructured to greatly enhance its combat readiness.
Referring to China’s long dispute with Taiwan, he said the PLA was “confident, capable and fully prepared to resolutely safeguard state sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Beijing views Taiwan, a self-governing democracy of 23 million people, as a rebel province and has vowed to use force if necessary to prevent any formal breakaway and reincorporate it into “one China.”
Chang said the whole Chinese nation would oppose any form of secession by anyone at any time.
At the same time the defense minister was at pains to underline the PLA’s contributions to “world peace.”
He noted the Chinese military has sent 31,000 troops to take part in 24 U.N. peacekeeping missions, and that since 2008, the PLA Navy has deployed 26 taskforce groups to escort shipping in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
The appearance of Chinese warships in the waters off north-east Africa marked the country’s first-ever naval deployment beyond the Pacific Ocean. In a more recent first, China is now setting up its first overseas military base, in Djibouti.
“This [Djibouti] initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces,” the Pentagon said in a recent annual report to Congress on China’s military.
It said while this will enable China to expand its humanitarian, search and rescue and non-combatant evacuation operations, a “more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure would also be essential to enable China to project and sustain military power at greater distances from China.”
The Pentagon report also observed Chinese military officials’ references in recent years to the doctrine of “forward edge defense” – or the importance of controlling maritime territory far from its shores.
‘[D]octrinal references to ‘forward edge defense’ that would move potential conflicts far from China’s territory suggest PLA strategists envision an increasingly global role,” it said.