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  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 6:24pm
Xi Jinping

Will 'strongman' Xi Jinping lead China into armed conflicts with rival neighbours?

President's assertive tone and focus on military power of growing concern in region, experts say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 9:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 4:38am

China has become more willing to show off its military might since President Xi Jinping came to power as he wants to send a message to people at home and abroad that he is a strongman willing to take touch action, military and political analysts said.

But international relations experts fear this is raising concerns that China might use force to solve its territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours.

“Xi said his personality and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s were very similar when he visited Moscow early last year, hinting that he would be as strong as Putin when dealing with domestic and foreign affairs,” Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said.

“When looking back at what he has done over the past year or so, I think Xi is trying to abandon the party’s long-standing collective leadership tradition designed by Deng Xiaoping  during the 1980s economic opening and intends to make himself a master of neo-authoritarianism.”

Xi, the son of the revolutionary hero Xi Zhongxun, served as personal secretary to former defence minister and Central Military Commission secretary-general Geng Biao early in his career and has a closer relationship with the People’s Liberation Army than his two predecessors Jiang Zemin  and Hu Jintao . 

When he became chairman of the military commission, the army’s top brass, in November 2012 he called on the PLA to turn itself into a modern combat force through intensified military drills, the upgrading of technology and weaponry and by overhauling the way it is commanded.

Under his leadership, the PLA, the world’s biggest army with 2.3 million personnel, has become more high-profile and willing to show off its achievements in modernising its military on land, air, and sea.

This has included giving details of some of the latest military technology developed in China, such as the J-20 and J-31 fighter jets; its first unmanned combat aerial vehicle the Lijian or “Sharp Sword”, as well as the so-called “aircraft carrier killers” the YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missile and the YJ-100 anti-ship cruise missiles.

Beijing also announced at the end of last year that it has set up another aircraft carrier base at Sanya  on Hainan island, close to disputed regions of the South China Sea.

This comes after China took delivery of its first carrier, the Liaoning in September 2012 which is normally based at the eastern port of Qingdao .

A naval expert described the new base as a launching point in the south for future aircraft carrier fighting groups.

The PLA also appears to be have intensified its naval drills since Beijing announced in December it had set up an air defence identification zone close to disputed areas of the East China Sea. At least four naval drills have been held since then. 

“As a ‘second generation red’, Xi needs to show he is different to Jiang and Hu because they were too flabby and timid when dealing with territorial disputes during their terms,’’ Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong  said.

“He wants to be a strong leader like Mao Zedong  who worshipped violence. That’s why Xi repeatedly urges the PLA to be well-prepared for real combat and for victory.”

Xi’s tough political style has worried many of China’s neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, foreign military experts said.

“Any country near China has been particularly concerned about China’s growing military might,’’ said Dr Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“Even countries that are normally not afraid of China such as South Korea may be having second thoughts and certainly increasingly see China as a real threat. 

“I think Xi is very much playing the nationalism card of late. It allows China to be intransigent and uncompromising,’’ he said. 

Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a defence analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, said India has also raised concerns over China’s growing military might, although she said its naval reach was still limited. 

“China thinks it no longer needs to hide or be reticent about its capabilities,’’ she said

“China’s capability acquisitions and new strategies have a direct bearing on India especially because there is an unresolved border issue. The air defence identification zone initiative is one more example of the Chinese opaque decision-making process that has repeatedly led to strategic surprises for those dealing with China,’’ she said. 


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This article is now closed to comments

And why can't China look after its own interests in its own backyard? How is setting up a carrier base in Hainan a threat to anyone? It is Chinese sovereign territory. They have a perfect right if not obligation to do so, especially given the increasingly militaristic stance of Japan and the so-called Asian pivot by the US. It seems the US and Japan can do no wrong. The US can prowl the seven seas and invade and bombard whomever they so choose and are not condemned as a threat to world peace while China's attempts to defend it's own territory is seen as somehow a threat to its neighbors. Give me a break.
It's great that Xi is exercising his military muscles that is expected of a great leader...........not like the wimp Hu Jintao and Wen Jia bao before him............
M Miyagi
Compared to the devil worshipping Shinzo Abe, Mr Xi is a very decent man who is going to be as strong as China will become. Unlike the fascist and evil Japanese government, China's government despite problems like corruption, backwardness are striving to improve in terms of transparency, responsibility, human rights etc. The Japanese government compared to the Chinese government are just a bunch of evil, perverted, fascists, unrepentant pygmies with no future. Japanese ideology of state Shintoism and militarism is a dead end and will make those Japanese pygmies extinct soon. Fukushima was a warning to Japan for the evil the Japanese have done.
Xi must always REMEMBER the horrendous suffering endured by millions of Chinese as well as Asians under the hands of sadistic unrepentant Japanese. The crimes must be paid back in return
M Miyagi
Absolutely right. You don't find China patrolling near the US coast or putting nuclear missiles near the US neighbourhood. The US pivot is just to contain China with the help of the evil Japan. After 70 years of sleeping with the enemy (although you might say the Japanese are willing parties), the US is now becoming like the previous Imperial Japan that was nuclear bombed into unconditional surrender in 1945. Being friends with the fascists barbaric Japanese is making the US into a similar entity. look at the war on muslims, illegal invasion or Iraq, lies about WMD in Iraq etc. The US should pivot to HELL instead!
Chinese President Xi is doing whatever is necessary to defend the country. Xi is a great leader.
M Miyagi
Certainly better than the Devil worshipping fascists and perverts in the Japanese Pygmy government like Shinzo Abe the grand-son of a war-criminal. Japanese pygmies have no shame.
Nicole Xi
It is high time to send Dennis Rodman to beijing
Beijing is so dark and smoggy, not sure if we'll notice rodman... WiNK
With the lives of other innocent to make sure violence and hatred be passed down another generation great idea looser



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