What Tasks Does Xi Have for China’s Military?

May 27, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020


On May 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping told senior officers the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police Force increase “preparedness for armed combat” as well as other military tasks.

It is a chilling thought, but Xi may have several “tasks” in mind, for both the PLA and the PAP. Throttling Hong Kong immediately comes to mind. Beijing’s communist government is on the verge of breaking the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy through 2047.

Another round of armed imperial bullying in the South China Sea may be in the offing. In that tense sea, China’s artificial islands and illegal maritime claims, backed by its armed forces, have literally stolen territory from neighboring nations.

China’s land border touches 14 sovereign countries: Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and North Korea. China has territorial, political, and ethno-cultural conflicts with several of these nations.

Consider India. Since China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet, India and China have had a difficult security relationship. The two nuclear powers share a 3,500-kilometer border, and there are several boundary disputes. In the last six weeks, Indian media have reported that Indian and Chinese soldiers have clashed along what is called The Line of Actual Control threading through the Himalayas. In two skirmishes, soldiers suffered injury, one in India’s Ladakh region and the other in the Naku La mountain pass in Sikkim. India and China constantly bicker over Ladakh and the Doklam plateau. However, Indian media have published satellite photos they claim prove several thousand Chinese soldiers have occupied Indian territory in the Galwan River valley. The South China Morning Post reported that Indian sources regarded Galwan and Naku La as new disputes.

Recall the 1962 Sino-Indian War. China acclimated an assault force, preparing infantry for high-altitude operations, and then conducted a quick offensive that punished the Indian Army. India remembers. Now the stage is set for a larger war. India can interdict China’s sea-shipping supply line from Africa and southwest Asia. China has enlarged its navy and is acquiring bases in the Indian Ocean, including a seaport in Pakistan.

Vietnam could be a task with a sea dimension. China has seized Vietnamese areas in the South China Sea. The United States and China already clash in the South China Sea, and China has sparred with the Philippines as well. Beijing’s belligerence is spurring closer U.S.-Vietnamese cooperation. Asia has experienced millennia of Chinese imperialism. Hanoi knows at least with the Americans you get rock ‘n’ roll.

But Vietnam is much more than a sea squabble. In 1979, China and Vietnam fought a brief but bloody border war. Chinese forces performed poorly. Vietnam inflicted very heavy casualties on the invading PLA. China remembers, with embarrassment. The PLA is now a modernized force.

Since 1949, Taiwan has been on the task list, but recent elections indicating Taiwan prefers complete independence have sparked threats by the communists to attack the island and “recover the lost province.” For that, China’s generals need air superiority over the Taiwan Strait. They are building air and missile forces with that in mind. They are also procuring amphibious warfare ships to move assault troops across the Taiwan Strait. However, Tiananmen Square and China’s failure to respect its promises to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms have stiffened Taiwan’s spine.

Xi also told the PAP to prepare. Think of the PAP as an army tasked with internal repression and ensuring Communist Party control. Subduing and oppressing ethnic Turkic Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang province is a current PAP task. Landlocked Kazakhstan and Mongolia are appalled, but there is little they can do.

In fall 2019, elements of two PAP divisions deployed their armored cars and armored personnel carriers along Hong Kong’s border. It is a chilling thought, but Xi might task the PAP and PLA with arresting, beating, and perhaps killing pro-democracy Hong Kong citizens who refuse to kowtow to Beijing’s communist dictators.

Austin Bay is a colonel (ret.) in the U.S. Army Reserve, author, syndicated columnist, and a teacher in strategy and strategic theory at the University of Texas. His latest book is “Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.