Xi also serves as chairman of the Central Military Commission, and he wants the military to “better protect [the] stability” of the country’s borders and develop an efficient command to improve China’s ability to win battles.
Southern Theater Command
The Southern Theater Command is responsible for equipment and military personnel in the six southern regional provinces: Guangdong, Guangxi Zhuang, Hainan, Hunan and Yunnan. The body also controls the PLA South Sea Fleet, which maintains jurisdiction in the South China Sea.
“You’re constantly working at the front line, and playing key roles in protecting national territorial sovereignty and maritime interests. [I] hope you can fulfill such sacred and solemn missions,” Xi commented, according to a translation from China Central Television.
According to the report, Xi also stressed the need for the Southern Theater Command to improve all aspects of active combat training to ensure “efficient communication” which would increase China‘s capabilities to compete in modern warfare.
Tension In South China Sea
The South China Morning Post expounded on Xi’s address, stating that the comments were likely intended to “boost morale and reiterate Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.”
“It’s 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],” Collin Koh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore told the SCMP.
“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,” Beijing analyst Zhou Chenming said about the situation.
Koh added that the timely address to the Southern Theater Command was a likely warning to pro-independence forces in Taiwan. In 2016, Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, leading to a worsening of relations between Beijing and Taipei.
Xi’s visit to the Southern Theater Command came a day after Chinese State Councilor General and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said Beijing would never give up “one single piece” of their land.