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Xi says China loves peace but won't compromise on sovereignty

China's President Xi Jinping speaks during the ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the China's People's Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on August 1, 2017. Photo: Reuters 

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a tough line on national sovereignty on Tuesday amid multiple territorial disputes with his country's neighbors.

Xi's declaration came during a nearly one-hour speech in Beijing marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is the world's largest standing military, with 2.3 million members.

"The Chinese people treasure peace and we absolutely do not engage in invasion and expansion. However, we have the confidence to conquer all forms of invasion," Xi told government leaders and current and retired PLA members gathering at the hulking Great Hall of the People, the seat of the legislature that sits beside the Tiananmen Square.

"We absolutely will not permit any person, any organization, any political party — at any time, in any form — to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China," Xi said to applause.

"No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit of damage to our sovereignty, security and development interests."

This is the second time in three days that the Chinese president has spoken about the army's capability to fight invasions. "I firmly believe that our gallant military has both confidence and ability to defeat all invading enemies," he said on Sunday at a huge PLA parade.

Loyalty to party

Xi's Tuesday address also included several calls for the 2 million-strong armed forces to rally around the Communist Party of China (CPC).

"Our army will remain the army of the party and the people," Xi said.

"To build a strong military, we must unswervingly adhere to the party's absolute leadership over the armed forces, and make sure that the people's army always follow the party."

Quoting Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, Xi said, "Our principle is that the party commands the guns, and the guns must never be allowed to command the party."

Modernization of military

Xi also said that the PLA had successfully "remodeled" its organizational and power structure, as well as its public image, after five years of hard work.

The army has been a target of Xi's wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, with several senior military officers including Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong and Gu Junshan being felled for graft since Xi came to power.

"The force is modernizing very rapidly, probably more rapidly than most Westerners grasp," said Lyle Goldstein, associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College. "Across the board it's hard to find any weaknesses."

China's military is modernizing rapidly as the Asian superpower attempts to sure up its global leadership position and project greater power beyond its borders.

China has taken a welcome larger role in international peacekeeping, anti-piracy and anti-terrorism efforts. Today, China contributes 2,500 troops to UN peacekeeping efforts, more than the other four permanent Security Council members combined, while also putting up $7.87 billion toward operations.

"China is making a lot of contributions to global security, which is often overlooked," said Goldstein. "It deployed substantial forces into West Africa during the Ebola crisis and the PLA handled itself very well by all accounts."

Last month, China established its first ever overseas military base in Djibouti, situated at the southern entrance to the Gulf of Aden on the horn of Africa, to assist such "international obligations," according to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

It's indicative of the larger geopolitical role President Xi has sought at a time when the US under President Donald Trump appears to be withdrawing from its international commitments.

Xi's signature Belt and Road Initiative — a trade and infrastructure network spanning Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa — involves a $900 billion investment spread across some of the most unstable places on earth.

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