President Xi Jinping, who is also the overall commander of the 2.3 million-strong army, has ordered war games over military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA on 1 August, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Xi is expected to attend the drills in full battle uniform, it said. He will be the special guest at China’s biggest annual war games at Asia’s largest military training base, the Post quoted officials as saying.
President Xi will make his first known visit to the Zhurihe Combined Tactics Training Base, 400km northwest of Beijing in Inner Mongolia, to observe war games involving cyberwarfare, special troops, army aviation and electronic countermeasures, the daily said quoting PLA officials.
“There had been speculation the anniversary would be marked by a parade in Beijing, but Xi, who as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), has been pushing the PLA to modernise, will instead be the guest of honour at Zhurihe to see how that effort is progressing," it said.
“There will not be a military parade on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 1 August as rumoured, but a full-scale, head- to-head military manoeuvre in Zhurihe to celebrate the army’s birthday," a military insider told the Post, adding that Xi would observe the war games from the base’s command centre. He said a squadron of China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, which went into service with the PLA Air Force in March, was very likely to feature.
“All participant units will grab this opportunity to show off state-of-the-art development," he said. “The full-scale military manoeuvre will test the PLA’s capability to integrate and coordinate land forces, army aviation, the newly established rocket force, strategic support units and logistics between different troops, with more hi-tech weapons being displayed," the official said.
The planned war games coincide with over a month-long standoff between Chinese and Indian troops in the Dokalam area in the Sikkim sector. Chinese and Indian soldiers have been locked in a face- off in the disputed area in the southernmost part of Tibet in an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan after Indian troops stopped the Chinese army from building a road in the area.
Besides Dokalam, China is also concerned by the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile by the US in South Korea despite its opposition.
“The war games this year were supposed to be the biggest ever to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA, but developments on China’s borders, such as the current military stand-off between Chinese and Indian troops in the Himalayas and Pyongyang’s missile tests, may affect its scale," the daily quoted the military insider as saying.
The PLA was founded on 1 August 1927 when the Communist Party of China (CPC) under the leadership of Mao Zedong carried on with his national liberation movement. It is one of the rare national armies which still continues to function under the leadership of the CPC and not the Chinese government.
Xi heads the Central Military Commission (CMC) which is the overall command for the PLA. Xi who heads the CPC, the presidency besides the military, has emerged as the most powerful leader holding all the three posts from the first day he came to power and carried out major reforms of the military as part of his plans to make it most modern force.
The massive drills have been kept as a secret as the PLA which held a media briefing in Beijing on Monday on its 90th-anniversary celebrations has not announced the programme of celebrations. The biggest military parade in China’s modern history was held in Beijing on 3 September 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.
“There is no sign any military parade will take place in Beijing because so far we have not seen any marching training inside or outside the capital," Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the Post, adding that such training always started several months before a parade.
Retired PLA major general Xu Guangyu said live war games could be part of the PLA’s birthday celebration. Xu said the unscripted manoeuvres at Zhurihe would add authenticity to the army’s training because the encounters would be closer to actual battles.
Macau-based military commentator Antony Wong Dong said that based on video footage and reports provided by state media, the scale of war games in Zhurihe had been closer to real battles in recent years, indicating the PLA ground force’s determination to abandon its previous single force operation and move to a joint operation involving different units.