Why China’s rapid military expansion has its neighbours worried.
President Xi Jinping warned on Friday that China was not afraid of war and would never allow its sovereignty, security and development interests to be undermined, in a muscular speech to mark 70 years since Chinese troops entered the Korean War.
Any act of unilateralism, monopolism and bullying would not work and would only lead to a dead end, Xi said in a speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, which took place amid rising tensions with the United States.
“Let the world know that ‘the people of China are now organised and are not to be trifled with’,” Xi said, quoting Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.
Xi did not directly refer to the US, whose ties with China have sunk to their lowest in decades amid escalating disputes with the administration of President Donald Trump.
The world’s two biggest economies have clashed over issues ranging from trade, technological and security rivalry to human rights and the coronavirus. Trump’s tough stance on China has been central to his campaign to winning a second term in the presidential election on November 3.
“Seventy years ago, the Imperialist invaders fired on the doorstep of a new China,” Xi was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post newspaper.
“The Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and stop an invasion with force, earning peace and security through victory. The Chinese people will not create trouble but nor are we afraid, and no matter the difficulties or challenges that we face, our legs will not shake and our backs will not bend.”
Xi also stressed the need for the modernisation of the country’s defence and armed forces to create a world-class military.
“Without a strong army, there can be no strong motherland,” XI said.
Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River, which marks China’s border with North Korea, in October 1950 to help Pyongyang in its fight against the US-led United Nations and South Korean forces, which had started a few months before.
Stressing the geopolitical importance of North Korea, Mao said: “If the lips are gone, so will the teeth grow cold.” The People’s Republic of China had been established only the year before.
More than two million Chinese troops were deployed but the war ended in an armistice in 1953. The absence of a peace treaty means the peninsula remains – technically – at war.
“After arduous battles, Chinese and (North) Korean troops, armed to their teeth, defeated their opponents, shattering the myth of the invincibility of the US military, and forcing the invaders to sign the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953,” Xi said.
Earlier this week, the US approved the potential sale of weapons systems to Taiwan with a total value of $1.8bn, angering China, which considers the island part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island.
It has been increasing pressure on Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016 and has stepped up its military activities this year.
Washington does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but it is required by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.