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China’s plans for military growth driven by ‘internal factors’, territorial security, say experts

China’s plans for military growth driven by ‘internal factors’, territorial security, say experts

File photo of a Chinese soldier holding his country's flag. (File photo: AFP/File/Vyacheslav Oseledko)

SINGAPORE: China’s plans for military growth, outlined by President Xi Jinping on Sunday (Oct 16), are driven by “internal factors” and territorial security, experts said.

Opening a week-long Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting, Mr Xi said the country will accelerate the building of a world-class military and strengthen its ability to build a strategic deterrent capability.

“We will work faster to modernise military theory, personnel and weapons,” Mr Xi said in the nearly two-hour speech.

“This is mostly reaction to internal factors like history, like nationalism sentiment, rather than, you know some kind of ambition,” Dr Lance Gore from the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute told CNA’s Asia Now.

“China is overall on defensive rather than (being) prompted by ambitions of world domination.”

China’s moves come in a bid to improve its soft and hard power, said the senior research fellow.

He noted that the West wanting to decouple from China shows that Xi's way of ruling is “not welcome, tolerated” as such a situation would have been “unimaginable” a few years ago, given China’s role in globalisation.

Dr Peter Li, a China policy specialist at the University of Houston-Downtown, said that China’s foreign policy strategy in the last decade has been about consolidating its hold on South China Sea, which the country considers its own territory.

“Also, China is beefing up its military strategy, in case foreign powers would be interfering in China's internal affairs like Hong Kong, like Taiwan,” the Associate Professor of East Asian Politics told CNA.

“So, the military modernisation is basically for defending what China calls the core national interests, the territorial interest.”

REUNIFICATION WITH TAIWAN

Achieving China’s full reunification with Taiwan is essential to realising national rejuvenation, Mr Xi said in his speech at the CCP’s most important political event held every five years.

Beijing has offered Taiwan, which it views as its own territory,  a "one country, two systems" model of autonomy, the same formula it uses for Hong Kong. But all mainstream Taiwanese political parties have rejected that proposal and it has almost no public support, according to opinion polls.

Mr Xi said on Sunday that while China will adhere to striving for the prospect of a peaceful reunification with Taiwan, it will “never commit” to abandoning the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures.

That option is partly aimed at "interference" by external forces, he said.

Beijing faces renewed criticism from the West over aggression towards Taiwan. Tensions between Beijing and the West rose in August following United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.

When asked how Mr Xi will balance potential armed reunification with the rejuvenation of his country, Dr Gore said that while Taiwan is a “very, very central issue” for China, national rejuvenation is more important.

“China national rejuvenation is a much larger project and (the) Taiwan issue can be solved when China really becomes a top dog in world politics,” he said.

PROMOTING “PEACEFUL DEVELOPMENTS”

Despite its plans for military growth, China’s foreign policy, as detailed by Mr Xi in his speech, is one that would take into consideration other countries’ interests and promote economic development and “not one that would, you know, send warships around the world”, said Dr Li.

He was explaining the context of Mr Xi’s vision of China taking the centrestage of global affairs.

“He was saying that China would promote peaceful developments, and it's not a policy that would be using coercive ways to promote its interest but would promote common prosperity of all the other countries,” he said.

Mr Xi, who is expected to secure an unprecedented third term at the end of the meeting, is unlikely to continue on to a fourth term, although this may depend on whether or not he has fulfilled the tasks he sets out in his third term, the experts said.

“I don't believe that fourth term would be on the table at this point of time, but his concentration would be fulfilling his own ambition to …  rejuvenate the country and to make China authentic … on this international stage,” said Dr Li.

Source: CNA/ja

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