Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered troops to put their minds and energy on preparing for war during a visit to a military base in the southern province of Guangdong, according to state news agency Xinhua. The remarks come amid Indo-China face off in the border region of Eastern Ladakh and growing tensions with the United States.

Xi asked the troops to gear up for a face off during an inspection of a People's Liberation Army Marine Corps base in Chaozhou City on Tuesday. However, it is not known why he has asked for this preparedness from the army. Speculation is rife that Xi is hinting at a possible war with India. At the same time growing tensions between the United States and China over several issues including the coronavirus pandemic, trade disagreement and China's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong may possibly lead to a face off.

Xi's Issues Fresh Threats

Xi Jinping
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Xi during his visit told soldiers to "maintain a state of high alert" and called upon them to be "absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable." The primary objective behind the visit to Guangdong was to deliver a speech on Wednesday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, which was established in 1980 to attract foreign capital and played a vital role in helping China's economy become the second-largest in the world.

Xi's visit to the military base comes amid growing tensions between China and the United States, with disagreements over Taiwan and the coronavirus pandemic creating sharp divisions between the two superpowers. However, it was not clear whether Xi's comment was intended toward India, Japan or the United States and other countries with which China is embroiled in a tussle in the South China Sea region.

What is Xi Hinting At?

US China flag
US China flags Reuters

US-China relationship soured over the past few months primarily because of the pandemic. President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for failing to handle the spread of the virus during the initial days of the outbreak. Also, the Trump administration has been improving relations with Taiwan, which China believes 'unnecessary interference' by the United States. These gestures have further soured the relationship between the two countries.

Xi's comments come just a day after the White House informed Congress that it would move ahead with a deal to sell three advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, including the advanced High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). China, however, has been denouncing such moves by Washington. China insists self-governing Taiwan is a part of its territory, and Xi hasn't ruled out using force against the US ally.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian called on the United States to "immediately cancel any arms sales plans to Taiwan" and cut military ties. However, China's disapproval of US arms aid to Taiwan hasn't been successful.

In August, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-level US official to visit Taiwan in decades, when he traveled to the island ostensibly to discuss the pandemic. Since then China has increased military drills around Taiwan.

Indo-China Relationship Worsening

The Indo-China relationship worsened at Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh since the Galwan Valley stand off that killed 20 Indian soldiers in June. Although, both the nations agreed to focus on a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible after holding talks for around 11 hours on Tuesday, it is unlikely that the years-long conflict will be resolved anytime soon.

India China discussion in Moscow
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and China's State Councillor Wang Yi pose for a picture during a meeting in Moscow, Russia September 10, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

Meanwhile, a day after India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated bridges in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, China on Tuesday took offence and said that India has been ramping up infrastructure development "along the border and stepping up military deployment." It further accused India of causing tension between the two nations.

Moreover, China has now officially stated that "China does not recognize the so-called Union Territory of Ladakh illegally established by India, and opposes infrastructure construction in disputed border areas for military control purposes." Since 2005, China has been claiming Arunachal Pradesh terming it "South Tibet". In the past too, China's state TV had shown Indian maps without Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

China's Manifold Border Tensions

India and the United States are not the only countries that have been involved in a bitter tiff with China. Beijing has been ticking off non-claimant Indonesia in South China Sea again. Indonesia last month protested to Beijing over the intrusion of a Chinese coastguard ship that spent two days in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. The incident occurred off Indonesia's Natuna Islands and was the latest in the string of intrusions by Chinese coastguard ships and fishing vessels in Indonesia's EEZ.

Indonesia has time and again complained about Chinese vessels entering the waters off the Natuna Islands, which are within Jakarta's exclusive economic zone but are also claimed by China. By reigniting a dispute with Indonesia over control of the Natuna Islands, China seems to be asserting its expansive territorial claims and challenging Indonesia, which has always maintained that it is a "non-claimant" in the South China Sea.

Xi's call to gear up for war may have kept many guessing but China too is cautious that the international community is fast going against it as it continues to get involved in one conflict after another. Hence, any retaliation against India, United States, Japan, Indonesia or any other country needs PLA's preparedness.