XI Jinping’s World-Class Military: Not Only Fights, But also Wins Wars
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 34.1 Jan-Mar 2019 | Date : 04 Apr , 2019

“You fight your way and I fight my way” – 2015 White Paper on China’s Military Strategy1

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in October 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping strongly expressed China’s desire to “move closer to centre stage”.2 Owing to this ambition, Xi noted that the challenge lies in “profound c hanges in our [China’s] national security environment”, which then demands “a strong country with a strong military”.3 This is guided by Xi’s Chinese Dream’s military mission that aims at two centenary goals – first, by 2035, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) modernisation to be “basically completed” and second, by the mid-21st century (2050), the PLA to be “fully transformed into a world-class force” driven by the logic that “a military is built to fight”.4

To note, the foundation to a ‘strong and modern military’ was laid out in November 2015, at the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress which called for major military reforms that aimed at increasing the PLA’s ability to carry out joint operations on a modern high-tech battlefield. Upholding this objective, Xi put forward that the goal for the PLA lies in becoming ‘an army that not only can fight, but also win wars’. To which Xi’s logic is, “The capability to win is strategically important in safeguarding national security and strengthening that capability and combat readiness in the new era would provide strategic support to the realisation of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”5 Here, the cornerstone lies in making the PLA a ‘combat force’ in order to transform from the “regional defensive type to the full-spectrum combat type, so as to build a powerful, modern and new-type Army.”6 Xi’s commitment towards a “world- class military” further commensurate with that of China ascending to its great power status.

In this perspective, to argue that Xi Jinping’s ambition of a “World-Class Military” is driven by the logic of ‘fight and win’.

Xi’s Theorem of “Fight and Win”

Unlike the era of Mao Zedong, where the PLA aimed at protracted war fought on Chinese soil, with a heavy reliance on guerrilla warfare, China in the 21st century perceives war differently. Taking a departure from Mao, in Beijing’s current perspective, future wars entail: (a) to be shorter, perhaps lasting only one campaign; (b) will almost certainly not entail the occupation of China, although Chinese political, economic, and military centres are likely to be attacked and (c) will involve joint military operations across land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space as well as the application of advanced technology, especially information technology.7

In this pretext, Xi Jinping’s ‘fight and win’ logic to China’s military preparedness is driven by a two-fold perspective:8 First, the core objective to “win informationised local wars” (信息化條件下的局部戰), which acts as the basic point to call for combat readiness. Second, such advanced capabilities are aimed at increasing the PLA’s ability to carry out joint operations on a modern high-tech battlefield. It is interesting to note that the operational component of PLA’s current activities is still pivoted in Mao’s dictum of “active defence” (jijifangyu 极防御). By pledging “active defence” as the essence of “CPC’s military strategic thought”, the 2015 White Paper posits China’s military intentions, as posited: “We (China) will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counter-attack if attacked” and further added that “China will never seek hegemony or expansion”.9

The key components of active defence entail:10 first, a defensive military strategy, which permits attacks only after having first been attacked. However, attacks could also include pre-emptive or even preventive strikes with the goal of defending CCP rule, national sovereignty and territorial integrity; second, a “forward defence” posture and third, an operational doctrine that focuses on the opposing force’s weaknesses, initiated only when “time and conditions favour PLA forces and which does not limit the counter-offensive in terms of time, space or response”.11

In implementing active defence to the new security situation, China’s armed forces will adhere to the principles of “flexibility, mobility and self dependence”12 – which defines Xi’s ‘fight and win’ theorem. On January 03, 2018, at the Central Military Commission’s (CMC) first ever mobilisation meeting, Xi Jinping as Chairman of the CMC issued an order to enhance military training oriented at “combat readiness and put military training at a strategic position and as the central work with effective results”13 to which, Xi further added: “They [PLA] should also train hard in a scientific way, be brave to overcome difficulties and surpass opponents, and create an elite and powerful force that is always ready for the fight, capable of combat and sure to win in order to fulfill the tasks bestowed by the Party and the people in the new era”.14 To note, this is the first time since the founding of the country that instructions on military training have been directly issued by the Chairman of the CMC, thus suggesting that improving combat readiness is now a “strategic mission for the Chinese military”.15

Most importantly, Xi’s call for ‘Fight and Win’ is necessitated by China’s long-standing inexperience in war-fighting, as since the 1979 war against Vietnam, China has not fought a real war. This exemplifies China’s weakness in combat experience to fight its future wars.

Combat Readiness- Xi’s Tactic to Prepare for Contingencies

What calls for such a strict order from Xi? This assertion exemplifies the determination that China will not compromise on defending its sovereignty. In Xi’s view, China’s security environment is faced with “Three Trends” and “Three Major Dangers”- wherein, the “Three Trends” exemplify the external environment, the international situation that is constantly changing and new opportunities and challenges that are continually emerging, while the “Three Major Dangers” are that of China being “invaded, toppled and separated”.16 In this perspective, China’s contingencies are mainly threefold:–

The Taiwan Challenge- this factor bears heavily on China’s reunification and long-term development calculus. To which the PLA aims to deter and if necessary, compel Taiwan to abandon moves towards independence, as the 2015 White Paper categorically mentions that the root cause of instability in the cross-Straits relations is the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and their activities – that act as the “biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations”.17 In view of this, PLA’s combat readiness seeks to prepare itself for a contingency to unify Taiwan with China by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.18

The challenge of securing China’s sovereignty – as the 2015 White Paper points: “China’s offshore neighbours take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China’s reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied. Some countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs; a tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China. It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests. Certain disputes over land territory are still smoldering”. In view of this, China’s imminent contingencies include the ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea, Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and the unresolved boundary dispute with India. These three factors challenge China’s security and stability along its periphery and strongly affect China’s quest for regional dominance.

The challenge of ‘separatist and extremist forces’- a severe threat China’s national security and social stability. For China, separatist forces such as the “East Turkistan independence” in Xinjiang and “Tibet independence” forces have become a serious challenge to China’s internal security. There is an increased concern over escalating violent terrorist activities, especially by “East Turkistan independence” forces. In addition, China also faces challenges of a “Colour Revolution” from the anti-China forces within the country. To say so, as the forces hostile to the Chinese government are seen to turn Hong Kong into a “bridgehead for political subversion and infiltration into the Chinese mainland”.19 In view of this, the 2014 “Occupy Central”20 movement in Hong Kong is perceived by the Chinese government as a “Colour Revolution”, which was “deliberately plotted by some extremist groups” in Hong Kong.21

Owing to these contingencies, the 2015 White Paper posits that-“The armed forces will work to effectively control major crises, properly handle possible chain reactions and firmly safeguard the country’s territorial sovereignty, integrity and security”.22 In this regard, Xi’s call for combat readiness seeks to quell the risks of such contingencies as the formidable task for China lies in maintaining political security and social stability.

Furthermore, Xi has strongly stated that “no one should expect us [China] to swallow bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests”.23 What calls for Xi’s such a calculus is the fact that China under Xi is a security maximising state which aims at building its military means to meet the end of becoming a strong national security state. In this regard, Xi Jinping’s vision of a ‘World-Class Military’ is driven by the logic of elevating the PLA’s role in the country’s future, given China’s forceful quest in securing its strategic space both regionally and globally. To pursue such a goal, Xi seeks to make the PLA adept at combat capability and readiness for war to quell the risks of fog of war given the contingencies involved.

Implications for India

Xi Jinping’s quest for a combat-ready PLA holds significant implications for India. The unresolved boundary dispute acts as the trigger point, where China’s combat capabilities can be well-tested. The red alarms loom large given the 2017 Doklam stand-off that brought the two countries to a point of confrontation. Although peace has been restored, uncertainties loom large as there is no quick fix to this protracted problem.

What makes India weary of China’s combat-ready attitude? It remains indisputable that if India had not pulled back its troops, there was a heightened scope for China to use force to fight the contingency. Beijing officially issued a warning which stated that “China would take all measures to uphold its territorial integrity”.24 This further exemplifies China’s non-compromising attitude in safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity. If not another Doklam-like scenario, China will routinely test India’s resolve along the disputed boundary.


  1. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Military Strategy”, 27 May 2015, URL: (Accessed on 14 August 2018)..”apanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he en the two countries as ons. n challemges
  2. Xi Jinping (2017), “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, Delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, 18 October 2017, URL:’s_report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf
  3. Ibid., p. 47.
  4. Ibid., p. 48.
  5. Mu Xuequan (2017),“Xi instructs army to improve its combat readiness”, Xinhuanet, 04 November 2017, URL: (Accessed 20 August 2018).
  6. Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (2016), “China establishes Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force”, 1 January 2016, URL:
  7. Dean Cheng (2011), “China’s Active Defense Strategy and Its Regional Impact”, The Heritage Foundation, 01 February 2011, URL:
  8. Amrita Jash (2018), “With H-6G Bomber, China Gears Up to Win Informationised Local Wars”, CLAWS FOCUS, 28 January 2018, URL:
  9. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Military Strategy”, no. 1.
  10. Richard Bitzinger (2011), “Modernising China’s Military, 1997-2012”, China Perspectives, No. 4, p. 8, URL: file:///C:/Users/JASH/Downloads/chinaperspectives-5701.pdf
  11. Ibid.
  12. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Military Strategy”, no. 1.
  13. “Xi stresses real combat training”, Xinhuanet, 03 January 2018, URL:
  14. Ibid.
  15. Quoted Xu Guangyu in Yang Sheng (2018), “Xi presides over landmark PLA training mobilization”, Global Times, 03 January 2018, URL:
  16. Sun Jianguo (2015), “Upholding the Chinese Approach to National Security”, China Institute of International Studies, 11 June 2015, URL:
  17. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Military Strategy”, no. 1.
  18. Office of the Secretary of Defense (2018), “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China 2018”, 16 May 2018, p. 10, URL:
  19. Sun Jianguo (2015), “Upholding the Chinese Approach to National Security”, no. 9.
  20. Occupy Central, also known as the “umbrella movement”, was a large-scale protest of civil disobedience that began in Hong Kong on 28 September 2014. It was a protest to paralyse the city’s financial district if the Beijing and local governments did not agree to implement universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election and the 2020 Legislative Council elections according to “international standards”.
  21. Sun Jianguo (2015), “Upholding the Chinese Approach to National Security”, no. 9.
  22. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2015), “China’s Military Strategy”, no. 1.
  23. “China Focus: “Be ready to win wars,” China’s Xi orders reshaped PLA”, Xinhuanet, 01 August 2017, URL:
  24. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s republic of China (2017), “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson GengShuang’s Regular Press Conference on July 3, 2017”, 04 July 2017, URL:
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Amrita Jash

is Associate Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left