Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) should increase combat preparedness and enhance its capabilities, revealing Beijing's nervous anticipation of potential conflicts over Taiwan and South China Sea islands.
"Our armed forces, with a focus on the goals for the centenary of the People's Liberation Army in 2027, should work to carry out military operations, boost combat preparedness and enhance military capabilities," Li said in an address to the legislature.
High Degree of Modernization
The premier also said China will boost defense expenditure by 7.2 percent in 2023. China's outlay for the military for the current year is set at a whopping $224 billion (1.55 trillion yuan).
China already has the world's largest military, in terms of personnel strength. PLA has seen a high degree of modernization in the last decade under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Beijing is intent on adding highly sophisticated new hardware including stealth fighter jets, aircraft carriers and hypersonic missiles.
"The armed forces should intensify military training and preparedness across the board, develop new military strategic guidance, devote greater energy to training under combat conditions and make well-coordinated efforts to strengthen military work in all directions and domains," Li said.
Chinese state-owned media, meanwhile, downplayed the significance of the huge military allocation, saying the single-digit grown in military spending marks a 'reasonable and restrained boost' in military spending. They also point out that China's military spending hikes have remained in single-digit numbers in the last straight 18 years.
According to the Global Times, China's aim is to complete the modernization of the People's Liberation Army by 2035. Beijing wants its armed forces to be world-class by the mid-21st century.
It says that by mid 2023, the PLA will commission more advanced warplanes including J-20 stealth fighter jets and J-16 multirole fighter jets. Also, sea trials for the country's third aircraft carrier, will also take place this year. As part of combat preparations, PLA will conduct more live fire drills this year.
A gradual increase in defense expenditure is crucial as China seeks to achieve these goals and China's military spending push has been in tandem with the country's economic growth, a military expert told the GT.
Frequent War Rhetoric
At the end of January, a top US General 'predicted' that there will be a war with China in 2025. Top US Air Force General Mike Minihan said in a memo that he had the gut feeling that the US and China will have a military conflict over Taiwan in two years. "I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me will fight in 2025," Gen. Mike Minihan, head of Air Mobility Command, said in a memo to service members under him.
The General pointed out that Taiwan and the US will be engrossed with presidential elections in 2024, giving Chinese President Xi Jinping the headroom to move swiftly in Taiwan.
Earlier that month, former US national security adviser H.R. McMaster said China could be preparing for a war to annex Taiwan. "Xi Jinping has made it quite clear, in his statements, that he is going to make, from his perspective, China whole again by subsuming Taiwan ... And preparations are underway," ," McMaster said.