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Xi Prepares Chinese Military for ‘Non-War’ Operations

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: June 17, 2022
Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a review of troops from a car during a military parade in Hong Kong on June 30, 2017. (Image: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

On June 13, Chinese leader Xi Jinping signed an order providing “legal basis” for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct “non-war military operations” as outlined in a 2013 white paper. 

The directive, which went into effect on June 15, contains 59 regulations for “non-war” operations; its stated goal is to serve as an “innovative way of using military power” to guard against “risks and challenges” and maintain “regime security and regional stability.” 

Coming just days after Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe vowed that Beijing would “fight to the very end” to prevent Taiwanese independence, Xi’s order has stirred speculation as to whether the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is setting up the stage for an undeclared invasion of the island, similar to Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. 

‘Diversified use of the armed forces’ 

According to state mouthpiece Xinhua, the 59 regulations are “trial outlines” for safeguarding “national sovereignty, security and development interest,” as well as securing “world peace and regional stability” in addition to China’s sovereignty. 

The 2013 Chinese government white paper on the “diversified use of the armed forces” defines “non-war military operations” as covering emergency disaster relief, anti-terrorisim and “stability maintenance” operations, international peacekeeping and relief, as well as “rights protection” and “security alerts.”

An amphibious transport of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army lands a beach during the third phase of the Sino-Russian “Peace Mission 2005” joint military exercise on August 24, 2005 near Shandong Peninsula, China. (Image: China Photos/Getty Images)

“[The outline] systematically regulates basic principles, organization and command, types of operations, operational support, and political work, and implements them for the troops,” a state media announcement reads. 

According to official reports, the order represents the “in-depth implementation” of “Xi Thought on strengthening the military” — a subset of the “Xi Jinping Thought” that was written into the Communist Party’s ideology in 2018. 

Many reports highlighted the possibility that the CCP would use the “non-war” protocols to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan. 

The Telegraph called the order “a tactic similar to that used by Russia before it invaded Ukraine.”

Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based political analyst, told the outlet that the order has “political implication” regarding the island, which is officially governed as the Republic of China (ROC), though it has been separate from the mainland regime since the CCP took over in 1949. 

Internal control

However, the ROC authorities say they have not seen signs of an impending invasion by the PLA, despite frequent Chinese military flights that come near Taiwan. 

SinoInsider, a New York-based political risk consultancy that specializes in Chinese elite politics, wrote in a June 16 newsletter entry that “the Xi leadership is chiefly interested in using the ‘non-war’ military order to legalize and standardize the deployment of the PLA for domestic stability maintenance operations” in light of escalating crises at home. 

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard on a street in the Uyghur district of Urumqi city, in China’s Xinjiang region, on July 14, 2009.(Image: PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

“Economic problems aside, Beijing has to contend with a host of other issues that could trigger great public resentment and serious social unrest. This includes ‘zero-COVID’ excesses, long-standing official-civilian conflicts, food crisis, natural disasters, etc. Having the ‘non-war’ order gives the Xi leadership a leg up in preparing for the worst-case scenario.”

The SinoInsider analysts noted recent examples of social unrest, including a June 15 strike by teachers in eastern China’s Shandong Province over pay cuts, and a recent incident in which many Henan Province bank account holders’ assets were frozen.

The individuals reported having their movement restricted as their COVID health codes mysteriously turned red, despite them not having positive tests. This prevented them from physically going to their banks. 

“However, the health code system may not be sufficient to restrict the mobility of Chinese residents if a sufficient mass emerges to make their voices heard over the rural banks issue or other social problems. This is where the Xi leadership may have to deploy PLA troops for “non-war” purposes to keep order,” SinoInsider wrote.