Xi orders South China Sea contingent to prepare for war
Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military command responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to boost its capabilities in the event of an emergency or even war.
“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said in late October 2018, according to the South China Morning Postnewspaper. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.
“We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.” (Pictured: Navy personnel of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea in April 2018.)
Xi’s call for increased South China Sea aggression comes as nations continue freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOPS) in the contested waterways. Just weeks before Xi’s comments, a PRC destroyer sailed dangerously close to a U.S. Navy ship conducing FONOPS in the South China Sea. U.S. officials described the PRC’s actions as unsafe and unprofessional.
It’s because of these FONOPS that the PRC’s Southern Theater Command has had to bear “heavy military responsibility,” Xi said, according to the newspaper. His rhetoric has placed countries around the region on high alert, with Australia vocalizing a growing concern over the PRC’s posturing.
“We would view any use of intimidation or aggressive tactics as destabilizing and potentially dangerous,” Christopher Pyne, Australia’s defense minister, said in early October 2018, according to The Guardiannewspaper. “Australia has consistently expressed concern over ongoing militarization of the South China Sea, and we continue to refrain from unilateral actions that would increase tensions in the region.”
South China Sea experts, however, say it’s unlikely that tensions in the South China Sea will calm any time soon.
“The United States is expected to conduct more freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea region, and because it does not recognize [Beijing’s] rights to artificial islands, like Mischief Reef, there will probably be more military friction between the two countries there,” said Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based analyst, according to South China Morning Post.
U.S. military officials have consistently said they will continue conducting FONOPS in the South China Sea and elsewhere, in accordance with international maritime laws — regardless of the PRC’s posturing.