China orders armed forces to strengthen training for 'actual combat'

Xi Jinping orders his armed forces to strengthen training for ‘actual combat’ as Taipei warns that Beijing is already prepared to launch war against Taiwan

  • Xi calls for ‘actual combat’ training as Taiwan warns China is preparing for war
  • Follows three days of ‘joint precision strike’ training drills around the island 

Xi Jinping has called on China’s armed forces to ‘strengthen military training oriented towards actual combat’ following three days of drills intended to intimidate Taiwan.

State media reported today that China’s president had told the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command Navy the military must ‘resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, and strive to protect overall peripheral stability.’ 

One day after the simulated precision strikes, Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, told CNN China appears to be ‘trying to get ready to launch a war against Taiwan’.

As tensions rise, the United States and the Philippines are holding their largest-ever joint military drills this week, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken committing to ‘standing with the Philippines against any intimidation or coercion, including in the South China Sea’.

Beijing views Taiwan as an extension of the mainland, not recognising the administration set up by the fleeing KMT government after the Chinese Civil War in 1949. China also claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. 

A Chinese warship fires during a military drill off the Chinese coast near Fuzhou, Fujian Province, across from the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands on 11 April during training exercises

A fighter jet takes off during combat readiness exercises around the Taiwan Island carried out by the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), 8 April 2023

In response to the drills over the weekend, Wu stressed Taiwan was also taking measures to build up island defences, saying: ‘Chinese leaders will think twice before they decide to use force against Taiwan.’

Why does China claim Taiwan? 

The island’s history as “Taiwan” is relatively new.

The island has been populated by Malayo-Polynesian peoples for centuries.

Europeans built bases on the islands until Chinese Ming loyalists drove out the Dutch in 1662.

By 1885 the island had become a province of the Qing Empire.

China descended into civil war, 1927 and 1949, between the nationalist KMT party and the CCP in power today.

The civil war was caused by a number of factors, fomented by widespread poverty and slow economic development.

Through WWII, Britain and the US offered much support to the KMT to fight Japan and restore stability.

Russia allied more closely with the CCP, which hoped to solve China’s problems through socialism.

Ultimately, the nationalist government was forced out and relocated to Taiwan along with 1.2mn people from China.

China still lays claim to the island and waters around it through its “One China” policy.

The Republic of China government in Taiwan maintains that it is sovereign.

The ROC officially also seeks peaceful ‘reunification’ with mainland China, on condition its freedoms and democracy are preserved. 

Most Taiwanese people oppose joining China in fear of losing these freedoms. 

China and the United States have stepped up military exercises in recent months around the contested areas east and south of the mainland.

The United States put on a show of force, sending 17,600 troops to the South China Sea with the Philippines. The drills run annually, and will continue until 28 April.

It follows three days of simulations by the People’s Liberation Army around Taiwan, training with 11 warships and 70 fighter jets – including nuclear-capable H-6 bombers armed with live missiles.

Meanwhile, the US – which had repeatedly called for China to show restraint – sent the guided-missile destroyer the USS Milius through contested parts of the South China Sea. 

Japan also responded to the drills, scrambling jets.

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry accused China of inflaming tensions with the recent drills around Taiwan, ahead of a visit by the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, to Beijing.

‘We have the impression that measures such as threatening military gestures… increase the risk of unintended military clashes,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse said.

Germany is ‘working with our international partners to contribute to de-escalation’ in the region, she added.

Baerbock, who has previously called for more caution in trade with China, will meet representatives of German companies as well as Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang during her trip. 

At the end of March, China committed to ‘fighting back’ if Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen met with the US House Speaker during a trip to the United States, citing resolute countermeasures. 

The Taiwanese president did go ahead and meet Kevin McCarthy on 5 April regardless. 

The United States also last month partnered with Britain and Australia in a tripartite agreement to develop new nuclear powered submarines, supplied for the first time to Australia, in joint efforts to expand influence and security in the Indo-Pacific. 

At the end of February, China pointed the finger at the US for ‘endangering’ peace after a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flew through the Taiwan Strait. 

The US Navy responded that the reconnaissance plane was in international airspace when it flew through the 110-mile wide strait between mainland China and Taiwan. 

The legal status of the strategically-important body of water is contested, with the US claiming it is in international waters and China claiming it falls within its own waters, as it considers Taiwan an extension of the mainland.

A fishing boat sails past a Chinese warship during a military drill off the Chinese coast near Fuzhou, amid three-day military simulations around the island of Taiwan, on 11 April 

Soldiers of the Taiwanese Army take part in a military exercise at an undisclosed location in Taiwan in this handout picture provided by Taiwan Defence Ministry and released on 9 April

China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up its military activity near the island in the past three years as it seeks to try to force Taiwan to accept Beijing’s sovereignty.

Taiwan’s government says only the island’s people can decide their future and it will not give in to threats.

The island’s leaders fled to the island after the 1927-1949 Chinese Civil War, which resulted in communist forces controlling mainland China and establishing the People’s Republic of China.

Washington is Taiwan’s most important international backer and seller of arms despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties, and US support for the island is a constant irritant in Sino-US relations.

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