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Xi keen on bolstering armed forces for warfare

Security remains Beijing’s top concern. It was mentioned 28 times in the Govt Work Report, three times more than in last year’s report.

Xi keen on bolstering armed forces for warfare

Priority: China’s defence budget has been hiked by 7.2 per cent despite a slowing GDP growth rate. Reuters

Jayadeva Ranade

President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy

NEARLY 6,000 members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government’s top echelons congregated in Beijing recently to attend the week-long plenary meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s version of a parliament — and its top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). This NPC session (March 4-11) signalled that President Xi Jinping had further consolidated his authority as China’s pre-eminent leader and more firmly stamped the CCP’s imprimatur on the state. Equally importantly, it reaffirmed China’s global leadership ambitions. However, the economic difficulties were glossed over.

The 40-page Government Work Report, read out by Premier Li Qiang on the opening day, included laudatory references to President Xi — mandatory since the 18th Party Congress in 2012. This year, however, Premier Li singled him out for special praise. Li asserted: “We owe our achievements in 2023 to General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is at the helm charting the course.”

Security remains Beijing’s top concern and was mentioned 28 times in the report, three times more than in last year’s report. Asserting the importance of “promoting stability through progress” while addressing leaders of central and provincial governments, Li stressed that “stability is of overall importance, as it is the basis for everything we do. All localities and government departments should adopt more policies that are conducive to keeping expectations, economic growth and employment stable”. This emphasis on stability and security was also noticeable in the report of the Supreme People’s Court, presented on March 8. It claimed an increase of 29.5 per cent in the number of completed cases. Interestingly, it referred to “0.04 per cent of the other cases” meaning those “harming national security, harming defence interests...” In other words, the Supreme People’s Court tried 70,520 national security and defence-related cases in 2023, but just under 1 in 20,000 Chinese were charged with subversion!

The national defence budget was increased by 7.2 per cent or 1.67 trillion yuan ($231.4 billion), making 2024 the ninth straight year to see a single-digit hike in the country’s defence budget. This budget has doubled since 2013, when Xi took over. This increase, in spite of a slowing GDP growth rate, confirms China’s efforts to build a modern, technologically advanced, world-class army and its ambition to ‘recover’ its ‘lost’ territories. Noticeable is the fresh thrust towards advanced technology and emphasis on building the navy. Speaking to PLA representatives at the NPC and CPPCC plenary sessions on March 7, Xi “emphasised that the strategic capabilities in emerging fields are crucial components of the national strategic system and capabilities, which are related to the high-quality development of China’s economy and society, national security, and the initiative of military struggle”. He stressed the need to “promote the efficient integration and two-way stimulation of new productive forces and new combat forces”.

Xi stressed the importance of enhancing the strategic capabilities in emerging fields and said it was important to “integrate preparation for maritime military warfare, safeguarding maritime rights and development of the maritime economy”. On the sidelines of the NPC session, Yuan Huazhi, Political Commissar of the PLA Navy and NPC Deputy, told the Hong Kong Commercial Daily (March 5) that China would unveil its fourth aircraft carrier soon. He said there were no obstacles in developing China’s aircraft carrier technologies. The appointment of Gen Dong Jun, a PLA Navy officer and submariner, as Defence Minister will ensure adequate funds for the navy.

Xi also mentioned building a network space defence system and enhancing the ability to safeguard national network security. Alluding to the civil-military fusion, he called for strengthening the coordinated implementation of major projects in science and technology, promoting independent and original innovation, and fostering a vibrant ecosystem for innovation. Zhang Yuzhuo, Chairman of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, disclosed that investment by central state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in strategic emerging industries increased by 32.1 per cent in 2023 and that this would grow. He said there would be a focus “especially on brain-like intelligence, quantum information and controlled nuclear fusion”.

As anticipated, the Government Work Report sought to paper over China’s economic problems. However, by projecting a GDP growth rate of 5 per cent — the same as the previous year — and estimating the inflation rate also at last year’s 3 per cent, it revealed the country’s economic difficulties. The unchanged 5 per cent growth rate indicated the government's reluctance to set a figure it cannot reach, or a realistically low figure which would further undermine confidence. Unlike last year, when Beijing’s abrupt exit from the ‘zero Covid’ policy saw a sudden burst in economic activities in the first half, this time, China has no such advantage. Further, though the government sees inflation at around 3 per cent, China’s National Statistics Bureau reports that the economy is slipping into deflation. The CCP’s failure to hold the Third Plenum, which stipulates the country’s economic goals, on schedule in October or November suggests differences within the party.

The NPC plenary session strengthened and reconfirmed Xi and the CCP’s pre-eminent position. It indicated that manufacturing remains important and there will be emphasis on preserving China’s position in the global supply chain. No stimulus measures were announced, however, for China’s economy. China’s private entrepreneurs would have been disappointed at the absence of incentives and the pronouncedly favoured status accorded by the Politburo to the SOEs. What was important was Xi’s attention to strengthening the armed forces for multi-dimensional warfare (land, air, cyber, space and sea) by using advanced technology and enhancing the PLA Navy’s capabilities.

#China #Congress

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