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China orders South China Sea forces to ‘prep for fighting a war’

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Michel Temer/Flickr)
October 29, 2018

The latest orders handed down from China’s President Xi Jinping have raised concerns over whether or not the country is planning on going to war.

During his visit on Thursday to the southern Guangdong province, Xi said the Southern Theatre Command, which oversees the South China Sea, must focus on preparing for combat and war, Fox News reported Monday.

“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.”

“We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war,” he added.

Xi’s remarks to the Southern Theatre Command came during his four-day inspection tour in south China.

The Southern Theatre Command is in charge of patrolling Taiwan and the South China Sea, both of which have been sources of contention for China.

Just last week, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe reiterated China’s position on Taiwan, saying they refused to give up “one single piece” of its territory. He also called Taiwan’s attempts of sovereignty a dangerous action that would be met with military response.

However, some say that Xi’s comments likely serve to intimidate the U.S. over their continued support of Taiwan, and presence in the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said Xi’s comments are “likely intended as a signal to the U.S. in particular and any parties that Beijing perceives to be causing provocation [in the disputed waters],” according to the South China Morning Post.

In the South China Sea, China has acted aggressively to foreign ships and aircraft who enter the area, despite foreign ships and aircraft patrolling in accordance with international law.

On Oct. 1, a Chinese destroyer threatened a U.S. Navy ship on a “freedom of navigation” mission when it maneuvered dangerously close to the U.S. ship, forcing it to make a hard turn away to avoid a collision.

U.S. Navy Adm. John Richardson said Monday that U.S. patrol missions in the South China Sea would continue as usual, saying the patrols guarded against “illegitimate maritime claims.”

“We will continue to progress this program of freedom of navigation operations,” Richardson said. “We do dozens of these operations around the world to indicate our position for…illegitimate claims, maritime claims.”

“The United States is expected to conduct more freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea region, and because it does not recognize [Beijing’s] rights to artificial islands, like Mischief Reef, there will probably be more military friction between the two countries there,” analyst Zhou Chenming said.