Chinese leader called for war preparedness ahead of Yellen visit

Xi visited troops responsible for the Taiwan Strait and called for enhanced planning of ‘war and combat.’
Chris Taylor for RFA
2023.07.11
Chinese leader called for war preparedness ahead of Yellen visit In this file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a plenary meeting of the delegation of the People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force during the first session of the 14th National People's Congress in Beijing, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.
Li Gang/Xinhua via AP

Just days before United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen touched down in Beijing for a four-day visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater and emphasized war preparedness.

The Jiangsu Province PLA Eastern Theater is responsible for the Taiwan Strait and for a possible military assault on Taiwan, which China’s communist government claims as “sovereign territory” despite having never governed it.

The Eastern Theater carries out regular drills in the Taiwan Strait and has overseen live-fire drills encircling Taiwan in recent months.

Addressing commanders in Jiangsu Thursday, Xi “stressed efforts to … break new ground for theater command development and war preparedness,” state media reported.

He called for “enhancing the planning of war and combat … and stepping up training under real combat conditions to raise the forces’ capabilities to fight and win,” the reports said.

According to reports, experts think that Xi is “very aware” that any military move on Taiwan could draw in the U.S. and Japan, which has close ties with Taiwan as its former colonial overlord from 1898 to 1945, when Japan was defeated in WWII.

Yellen did not meet Xi during her two days of meetings with senior officials in Beijing, but the U.S. Treasury had indicated that was not an expectation before she went.

Xi is effectively the “supreme leader” of the PLA, the world’s largest standing armed force.

XiInspectsPLA.jpg
In this file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on a military jeep as he inspects troops of the People's Liberation Army during a military parade to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA at Zhurihe training base in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Sunday, July 30, 2017.  Credit: Li Tao/Xinhua via AP

Signaling that he is aware of Xi’s ambitions – just hours after Janet Yellen said the world has room to accommodate both the U.S. and China, – U.S. President Joe Biden said in an interview with broadcaster CNN that Xi aimed to dominate the world stage.

“I’m confident he [Xi] wants to have the largest economy in the world, the largest military capacity in the world,” Biden said.

In the past, Biden has reiterated or refused to walk back comments that undermine diplomacy with China, such as calling Xi a "dictator" after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing last month.

Tension in the strait

Beijing is fiercely opposed to U.S. military support for Taiwan and sales of weapons to the de-facto nation, and accuses the U.S. of turning Taiwan into a “powder keg.”

From Friday morning to Saturday morning the PLA sent 13 aircraft and six vessels into airspace and waters around Taiwan while Yellen was in Beijing and calling for a peaceful competitive relationship.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said four Chinese aircraft – two SU-30 fighters, one BZK-005 reconnaissance plane and one Y-8 anti-submarine warfare plane – crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait and entered Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone.

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In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the South China Sea on Monday, July 26, 2010. Credit: AP Photo/Xinhua, Pu Haiyang

Ni Lexiong, a professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, noted to the South China Morning Post that the show of force may have less to do with Yellen than the fact a US congressional delegation led by Mike Rogers, chairman of the House armed services committee, made a three-day visit to Taiwan.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently finalized the review of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2024 fiscal year. In its draft, the committee highlighted delays of deliveries of U.S. military sales to Taiwan and demanded a report from the U.S. Secretary of Defense by March 1, 2024, outlining the benefits and challenges of jointly producing arms and ammunition with Taiwan.

“The congressional group’s Taiwan visit is putting more pressure on Beijing and reminding Xi that Washington is escalating military intervention in a possible Taiwan war endorsed by the NDAA,” Ni said.

“Xi senses strong danger as the U.S. has also learned from the ongoing Ukraine war to be prepared for both short-term and long-term war, and more ammunition and heavy weapon systems are likely to be deployed to Taiwan.”

“This is Xi’s first inspection tour to the command since former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei last August, causing theater troops to stage unprecedented drills as [a] response,” Zhou Chenming, a researcher with Yuan Wang, a Beijing-based military science and technology think tank, told the Hong Kong English-language newspaper in the same report.

Trade tensions

During his visit to Jiangsu Province in East China, Xi also emphasized the development of technology, which has been subject to U.S. trade restrictions on high-tech semiconductor chips.

Yellen described the China chip restrictions as “narrowly targeted” in state security interests.

State media described his three-day “inspection tour” to the province as “promoting scientific and technological self-reliance.” The tour concluded on Friday when Yellen was meeting with senior officials in Beijing. Xi visited an industrial park, enterprises, a historical and cultural block, and a science laboratory.

Even though recent visits to China by Blinken and Yellen may have broken the ice and re-established some critical lines of communication, tensions between the U.S. and China cannot be considered to have been defused because China sees the trade restrictions on chip technology as standing in the way of its economic development.

“China wants to convince the United States that working together requires not viewing us as a primary competitor or gathering your friends to form a gang,” said Lu Feng, an economist at Peking University.

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, center, speaks during a lunch meeting with women economists in Beijing, China, Saturday, July 8, 2023. Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Reuters

China blasted female economists online for eating dinner with Yellen, even calling them traitors, in a social media outburst that was revealing about China’s complex feelings about its leading “frenemy,” the U.S.

China “requires” the U.S. to “cease the suppression of Chinese enterprises, lift bans on Xinjiang-related products, and take concrete steps to respond to China's major concerns in economic relations between the two countries,” China’s Finance Ministry said in a readout after Yellen departed on Sunday.

In comments given to U.S. business leaders in Beijing, Yellen said: “In fact, trade between our two countries reached an all-time high last year. And if it is fair, trade and investment can support American jobs at home and promote American innovation.

“A stable and constructive relationship between the U.S. and China is in the interests of American workers and businesses.”

Edited by Mike Firn.

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