Xi Jinping says China ‘determined to defeat invaders’ in Korean war anniversary speech

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President Xi Jinping has said that the Chinese military was determined to defeat invaders and warned against any attempt to divide the nation, in a fiercely nationalistic and pointed speech marking the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean war against American forces.

Speaking from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday, Xi touted the war to “resist US aggression and aid Korea” from 1950 to 1953 – the only military conflict between China and the United States – as a demonstration of China’s military might against American imperialists. He also called for moves to expedite the modernisation of the country’s defence and armed forces.

“Seventy years ago, the imperialist invaders fired upon the doorstep of a new China,” he said. “The Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory. The Chinese people will not create trouble but nor are we afraid of them, and no matter the difficulties or challenges we face, our legs will not shake and our backs will not bend.”

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Xi stressed that “any country and any army, no matter how powerful they used to be” – a clear jab at the US – would see their actions “battered” if they stood against the international community. He added that China needed to accelerate its military modernisation to build a world-class military, and to ensure that the ruling Communist Party maintained “absolute leadership” over the military.

“In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, and ideology of extreme self-interest are totally unworkable, and any blackmailing, blockades and extreme pressure are totally unworkable,” he said. “Any actions that focus only on oneself and any efforts to engage in hegemony and bullying will simply not work – not only will it not work, but it will be a dead end.”

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China, said Xi was sending a message that China did not want a war with the US, but was not frightened of it happening.

“The message is very clear: we don’t want to have war with you but if unfortunately we have war, we will fight and fight to the end, even if you are the number one superpower in the world,” he said.

The Korean war was the first – and so far only – time Chinese and US forces have engaged in large-scale direct combat. In the speech, Xi said the US ignored China’s warning 70 years ago to cross the military demarcation line between the two Koreas and send bombers to the northeastern border with China, causing significant fatalities.

He said China was lagging far behind the US in terms of strength and power, but had managed to defeat American troops together with North Korea.

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The victory was a sign that “the era when Western aggressors can occupy a country by setting up cannons in the east is gone forever”, he said, adding the experience showed the Chinese people could not be offended, and that they could withstand risk and pressure in front of enemies.

Xi said China would never allow its sovereignty, security and development interests to be undermined. Any act of unilateralism, monopolism and bullying would not work, and would only lead to a dead end. “Let the world know that the people of China are now united, and are not to be trifled with.”

He also said any attempt to divide China would be dealt with “head-on”, in a veiled warning to independence forces in Taiwan. “We would never allow anyone or any force to invade and divide the sacred territory of our motherland,” he said.

The Chinese leader’s remarks, made less than two weeks ahead of the US election, coincided with a fiery debate between US President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden, in which the two sounded off over who would better tackle the challenges of a rising China.

Xi’s speech, the latest in a series of heavily promoted events on the Korean war in the midst of flaring US-China tensions, also came ahead of next week’s fifth plenum, the party’s key meeting that will chart out the country’s political, economic and social development over the next five years.

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Earlier in the week, Xi – during a visit to the Korean war exhibition in Beijing – urged the Chinese people to “keep faith in their ultimate victory” and to “prevail over all enemies”, in what was also seen as a clear signal to the US.

Lu Xiang, a specialist on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi’s speech was sending a warning to the US, which was in confrontation with China over almost all aspects of their bilateral ties.

“The decision to fight the US [70 years ago] was a difficult decision when China was a backward nation,” he said. “But it sent a message that if the US took China’s warning as bluffing, it would suffer serious consequences.” The power gap between China and the US had narrowed and, therefore, the nation’s determination to defend its own security and sovereignty would be stronger, Lu said.

Xie Maosong, a political scientist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi’s speech carried a clear message of China’s readiness to fight back, ahead of Sunday’s anniversary of the first engagement between Chinese and US forces during the Korean war.

For China the Korean war is a reminder of strength against the US

Remembered as the Battle of Onjong, the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 40th Corps on October 25, 1950 conducted a series of ambushes against Republic of Korea troops, destroying the right flank of the US Eighth Army while stopping their northward advance towards the China-Korea border.

“His previous speech was more subtle,” Xie said. “Xi’s speech today – ahead of the anniversary of Chinese PVA troops firing their first shot and having the first win – is clearly aimed to send a ‘we will fight and we will win again’ message to the Chinese people, as China is facing growing pressure from the US now.”

The strategic rivalry between China and the US has intensified over trade, technology, the coronavirus pandemic, battling ideologies as well as Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet. Analysts have warned that the risk of war has grown, even as a full-blown military conflict remains against the interests of both sides.

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