President Xi Jinping's review of People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the restive region of Inner Mongolia at the weekend is indicative that behind-the-scenes power struggles at the heart of the ruling Chinese Communist Party are intensifying, analysts said on Monday.
Xi appeared on state television dressed in fatigues and riding an open-top jeep on Sunday, calling out "Comrades, you have worked hard!" to parading troops, armored vehicles, missiles and aircraft, who hailed him as "Chairman Xi" in return.
The commander-in-chief of China's armed forces, Xi told the parade at the Zhurihe military training base in Inner Mongolia: "We need to build a strong people's military more than any other time in history."
"The PLA has the confidence and capability to defeat all invading enemies and safeguard China's national sovereignty, security and development interests," he said ahead of the 90th anniversary of the PLA's founding on Aug. 1.
Xi told the 12,000 troops to "unswervingly stick to the fundamental principle and system of the party's absolute leadership over the army," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Always listen to and follow the party's orders," Xi said. "And march to wherever the party points to."
Hunan-based dissident Li Zhengran said Xi is still working hard to consolidate his position as the party's "core" leader ahead of the 19th Party Congress expected in November.
"The 19th Party Congress is still an unknown quantity that is unpredictable," Li said. "But this reviewing of the troops is a sort of attempt at unity, and is also intending to project a sense of shock and awe to those who oppose him [within party ranks]."
Hong Kong-based political commentator Li Ruishao said Xi needs the full backing of the PLA to consolidate his position as "core" leader ahead of the forthcoming congress.
"The fact that Xi appeared in camouflage gear at the review of the troops is an attempt to make up for the fact that he has no military background or combat experience," Li Ruishao said. "In fact, his military pedigree is very weak indeed."
"That's why he has to make such gestures, so show that he is on the same side as the military, and speaks with its voice," he said. "It also shows that he wants to cement his position as military commander-in-chief, and he is throwing all of his time and energy into doing that before the 19th Party Congress."
Advanced weaponry on parade
The PLA showed off its latest advanced weaponry on the parade, including a new Dongfeng-31AG variant of the nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile and the Dongfeng-21D "carrier killer." The parade was overflown by long-range H-6K bombers recently deployed in military exercises near Japan and the South China Sea.
Military analyst Huang Dong said China's unmanned aircraft, or drones, were of particular interest in the parade of military hardware.
"These anti-radiation drones were on display for the first time," Huang told RFA. "They seem to be modeled on Israel's Harpy UAV."
"The U.S. and Taiwan are particularly concerned about this, because firstly they didn't own the intellectual property to make them,and secondly, they are a threat to the radar installations of Taiwan and other neighbors," he said.
"We saw a pretty comprehensive display, including some very high specification [weaponry] from the PLA Rocket Army and comprehensive support forces," Huang said.
Since taking command of the Central Military Commission in November 2012, Xi has launched an ambitious modernization program for China's armed forces, cutting regular troops and pouring money into higher-end weaponry such as aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and stealth fighters.
Meanwhile, Beijing's growing use of quasi-military means to assert control over the South China Sea is raising concerns among neighboring countries and regional military planners.
Beijing is deploying coast guard ships and fishing vessels instead of its regular navy vessels in the busy shipping lanes of the region, claiming sovereignty over more than 80 percent of the islands and other land features, and rejecting conflicting claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Taiwan’s claims largely
overlap with China’s.
China’s increased use of its coast guard and maritime militia to press its territorial claims may now be adding an element of unpredictability and a higher risk of clashes with other nations’ vessels, analysts have told RFA.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-lam for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.