China’s most powerful leader President Xi has assumed a more direct control over the military with the new title of Commander-in-Chief of its Joint Operations Command Center, reports have confirmed.
He appeared publicly for the first time in camouflage battle dress wearing the joint center’s insignia.
Xi is also leading the ruling Communist Party and assumes the chairmanship position of a recently created National Security Council. With this position, the president has greater control over the domestic security services.
The president visited the center on Wednesday and gave a speech during which he called on its staff to “closely follow the trends of global military revolution and strive to build a joint battle command system that meets the need of fighting and winning an information-based war,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
President Xi implored the command to “change their ideas, innovate and tackle difficulties, in a bid to build a joint battle command system that was absolutely loyal, resourceful in fighting, efficient in commanding; and courageous as well as capable of winning wars.”
He continued in his speech saying that battle command capacities should be measured by “the standards of being able to fight and win wars.”
Xi stressed the need for the military to prepare for conflicts, analyze possible security risks, and handle effectively “all sorts of emergencies.”
The joint center is reportedly located underground in the western outskirts of Beijing and is under the direct supervision of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, which is headed by Xi; it also oversees the 2.3-million-member People’s Liberation Army which is rated as the world’s largest standing armed forces.
The commission’s two vice chairmen, Gen Fan Changlong and Gen Xu Qiliang both present as they accompanied the president for the event.
Critics say Xi has accumulated more power and authority than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s, since he became president three years ago. “A cult of personality has also sprung up around him to rival that of the founder of the communist state, Mao Zedong, with his slogans, sayings and signature political themes widely disseminated in the media.”
Yet his reputation has also been called into question by anonymous letters, allegedly from Communist Party members, calling for his resignation.
Revelations in the international media about vast wealth accumulated by members of his extended family have also affected his direct prosecutions of corrupt office holders (past and present) in his relentless campaign against corruption in the party, military and state industries.
Xi’s new title and his visit to the joint center were “more political than military” in significance and don’t imply he will take charge of the day-to-day running of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said Andrei Chang, (a Hong Kong-based editor of the magazine Kanwa Asian Defense and a close observer of Chinese military affairs).
“Throughout Chinese history, political power has always been founded on control of the military,” Chang said. “This was a visit to show off his muscle to his potential enemies and show that he is tough and in charge.”
His actions has raised tensions with China’s Southeast Asian neighbors and prompted the U.S. to devote more resources to Asia and strengthen its cooperation with traditional allies and even former foe Vietnam.