The Chinese military is expected to ramp up training in 2019, a year of rising geopolitical challenges and several key anniversaries for the People’s Liberation Army. Observers said growing tensions with the United States, and landmark commemorations including October’s 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic had pushed the PLA to expand drills. The assessment came after Xinhua reported last week that about 2 million personnel were involved in more than 18,000 mostly small-scale exercises in 2018. The report did not offer a comparison for 2017 but state media reported earlier that the PLA conducted roughly 100 larger-scale exercises in 2016. On Tuesday, the military’s mouthpiece, PLA Daily , reported that regiments all over the country had started a series of combat exercises after Chinese President Xi Jinping issued his first commands of the year last week. The newspaper also lashed out in an opinion piece at personnel who were neglecting combat readiness, urging them to train harder. “Some officers and soldiers … think they can enjoy all of their service years in peace, and some units have forgotten their mission to fight. They have neglected their responsibility to prepare for war, resulting in incompetence,” the commentary said. Chinese President Xi Jinping gives army its first order of 2019: be ready for battle Chinese military analysts said the call was prompted by regional tensions, particularly with the US, which has labelled China a strategic rival and expanded its trade war into technology and security. Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming said the USS McCampbell’s patrol near the Paracel Islands on Monday suggested there would be more US operations this year. “The Korean peninsula might also become a hotspot again,” he said. “More importantly, Taiwan is an extreme risk. The Chinese military must be prepared.” Retired PLA colonel Yue Gang said training was likely to become even more intense as Xi’s military reforms advanced. The president, who is also head of the military, launched a massive overhaul of the PLA in 2015 to transform it into a modern fighting force. “With total restructuring and constant basic training at the grass roots, bigger, more complex and comprehensive war games are finally possible and this is the time to put the forces to the test,” Yue said. As China tests military muscle, PLA warns Taiwan efforts to resist reunification with force are dead end He also said the military had not faced battle since border conflicts with Vietnam in 1990, allowing bad practices to build up. “A military that has not experienced real war will certainly become lazy and retrogressive,” Yue said. Over the years, observers have taken aim at China’s military for the ineffectiveness of its war games. The PLA has also taken part in a growing number of drills with other armed forces. Last year 3,200 Chinese troops took part in Vostok-18 – Russia’s biggest war games in more than 35 years a few months after Washington withdrew an invitation for China to take part in the Rimpac exercises in Hawaii. “Most joint drills are part of military diplomacy – only some are really to build capacity,” Zhou said. Yue said that this year the PLA would have to train for a military parade in Beijing on October 1 to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding. The navy and the air force will also turn 70 this year. “There should be some new weapons on show,” Yue said.