On August 14, Newsweek commentator Gordan Chang penned a stark piece claiming that Chinese authoritarian leader Xi Jinping’s recent series of military purges in the senior echelons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) indicates that Beijing is readying itself for war.
Xi is intent on invading Taiwan, an independent country never rules by China before, and this will draw in the U.S. and its allies into a wider war with China. Beijing sees Taiwan as a province.
Xi replaced the commander of the Rocket Force, Li Yuchao, and its political commissar, Xu Zhongbo. Li’s deputy, Liu Guangbin, and Zhang Zhenzhong, a former deputy, have also vanished without a trace.
In early July this year, deputy commander of the Rocket Force Wu Guohua also supposedly committed suicide.
Although there have been suicides of senior Chinese military officers from time to time, but the concurrent elimination of the top two officers of the Rocket Force is unheard of in recent Chinese history.
Also unprecedented have been the replacements hailing from other branches of the military. For instance, the new commissar, Xu Xisheng, is from the air force while the new Rocket Force commander, Wang Houbin, comes from the navy.
While state reports did not explain Wang’s appointment, speculation is rife that his predecessor Li Yuchao is facing government probing behind the scenes.
“This is indirect proof that there was a (political) problem with the former leadership of the Rocket Force,” US-based political commentator Hu Ping posted via his X account.
“The fact that these two new appointments have no connection to the Rocket Force shows that Xi Jinping is uncomfortable with the entirety of the former Rocket Force team,” Hu wrote.
In the event of a war orchestrated by Xi, the Chinese leader would have to depend on a nuclear forces command structure that expresses complete loyalty to him. With Xi’s totalitarian grip on power, it is no wonder that parts of the military have become increasingly disgruntled.
Echoing Chang’s ominous analysis was the founder and chief investment officer of U.S. investment firm Hayman Capital Management, Kyle Bass. Bass, an eminent China hawk, recently told CNBC that Xi is determined to “bring war to the West,” with an incursion of Taiwan likely before the end of next year.
Bass stated that western nations and Wall Street are too focused on the potential economic consequences of such an invasion. However, he claimed that the potential economic ramifications do not concern Xi in his geopolitical calculations.
“If you listen to what (Xi) says, I believe he will end up acquiring, reacquiring Taiwan by force by the end of next year,” Bass said.
“We on Wall Street love to think he would never do that because it doesn’t make economic sense. We have to stop thinking that way and literally start listening to what the man says,” he added.
As Xi’s unprecedented third term began in March this year, he stressed the need to “promote peaceful development of cross-strait relations” with Taiwan and that China should resist “external forces” and pro-independence movements. These days, the Chinese leader often talks about war, and his regime is readying itself for a possible one in the near future.
For instance, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is enforcing the biggest military buildup since the Second World War. Besides, Beijing attempts to sanctions-proof the country by stockpiling grain and other commodities, as well as incites China’s civilians for battle.
To secure a domestic food supply and reduce dependence on foreign imports, China is expanding its farmlands. As explained by the media outlet China Daily, “the rapidly aging rural population has made it more challenging for China to ensure food security,” leading to a drop in the number of farmers and compelling the nation to rely more on imports.
Therefore, Beijing is cognizant that its increasing dependence on foreign food imports signifies a crucial strategic vulnerability that it has to overcome. Thus, it is reasonable to think that Beijing is making plans for a potential conflict with the U.S., and must drastically reduce its reliance on food imports, a considerable portion of which happen to hail from the U.S. itself.
The CCP also meted out a death sentence to Liu Yazhou, a senior PLA air force commander, on the pretext of “serious economic corruption”. Liu had previously voiced discontent about China’s pugilism towards Taiwan, claimed a report in Ming Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper.
In June 2023, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu warned that China would attack “without any hesitation” any nation that tried to separate it from Taiwan. During his speech, “China’s New Security Initiative”, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, he said in a veiled barb to the U.S., “We are strongly opposed to imposing one’s own will on others, placing one’s own interests above those of others, and pursuing one’s own security at the expense of others.”
Although many in the west remain skeptical about Chinese intentions, Xi has made his plans clear that the Chinese military is to be ready to retake Taiwan by force by 2027.
The war that Xi is gearing up for in the very near future likely targets America, Taiwan and probably Japan, as the defeat and destruction of the U.S. as a military rival has been a top goal of the CCP since the time of authoritarian leader Mao Zedong.
There is a program of civil preparedness to prepare the Chinese people for the war that the CCP has been indoctrinating on them for years. The past years have witnessed China staging nearly daily air sortees in Taiwan’s air defense zone, and intimidating the U.S. and other countries around the issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea.
After all, a quick way to triumph over any nation in a conflict is to corner it into a war of attrition by enforcing a maritime embargo depriving it of key import and export routes. Should a Sino-US war break out, the U.S. could try to bring Beijing to its knees with a maritime embargo, hence severing it from crucial imports. The starvation of Chinese people could ultimately cause the downfall of the Beijing regime.
Admittedly, China has its Belt and Road initiative (BRI) as a strategic alternative with various routes across Eurasia to procure crucial imports, therefore reducing its risk exposure in the maritime realm.
That being said, given China’s massive population and resulting food demand, Beijing knows that its huge dependence on food imports, such as American soybeans, is a major liability it has to work around. Hence the Chinese doctrine of self-reliance, which Xi has called “dual circulation”, entails activities like farming and food.
With China’s economy presently in the doldrums, Xi’s Maoist-inspired policies, which prioritize state enterprises over private and foreign businesses, are making existing problems even worse.
Additionally, recent torrential flooding has been ravaging through towns and cities nationwide, causing untold economic damage. China’s staggering youth unemployment rate is also giving rise to widespread social discontent.
“China is in trouble,” said Biden at a political event in Utah. Indeed, Xi’s way out of the quagmire his country is in is to gather the Chinese people around an external crisis, real or manufactured.
The Chinese leader has many reasons to launch his much-hyped offensive as soon as possible to distract the Chinese people from how the CCP is plunging the nation back into economic hardship and the annals of Maoist authoritarianism.
As Lucia Dunn, a professor emeritus of economics at The Ohio State University, put it: Chinese authorities “have a different set of priorities, which is to keep that Party in control. They are not acting from primarily economic motives—they have a political one—and that just makes everything a wild card.”
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