Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken frequently about 'reunifying' Taiwan with the mainland. Photo: Twitter

China’s legislature has paved the way to mobilize civilian assets for war, with the Communist Party of China (CPC) – and by association its General Secretary Xi Jinping – given greater control than previously over military planning and mobilization.

The affected laws include the National Defense Mobilization Law, the Civil Air Defense Law, the National Defense Transportation Law and the National Defense Education Law. The amendments were passed on October 23 by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) after a four-day meeting.

The legal changes mean economic, science and technology, transportation, air defense and political entities can all be readily converted for military use in a war situation, significantly at a time with tensions over Taiwan have reached a new fever pitch.

The CPC’s Central Committee, led by President Xi, will now reportedly have a bigger say in the National Defense Mobilization Commission, which previously was co-managed by the State Council and the Party’s Central Military Commission, military experts said.

The changes come amid a flurry of public statements on “reunifying” Taiwan with the mainland by party officials as well as mounting Chinese think tank discussions of the topic.

Qin An, director at the Institute of the China Cyberspace Strategy, wrote in an article on October 25 that the legal amendments would help mainland China mobilize its civil and military resources more effectively in order to realize China’s “reunification.”

“The chairman of the National Defense Mobilization Commission is Premier Li Keqiang. From this, we can see that ‘national defense mobilization’ actually means ‘domestic support for the army to prepare for war’,” Qin wrote.

“According to the usual definition, ‘national defense mobilization’ means ‘war mobilization’ that the country enters a wartime situation and takes emergency measures to uniformly mobilize human, material and financial resources to serve the war.”

War drums are pounding. Over 100 Chinese academics recently held a “National Reunification and Chinese Rejuvenation” seminar in Yichang in Hubei province, where a keynote speaker suggested that Taiwanese people who support “reunification” with the mainland would enjoy the right to administer Taiwan in the future.

A Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft, left, flying alongside a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K bomber in 2018. China has recently stepped up its incursions into Taiwan’s airspace. Photo: AFP / Taiwan Defense Ministry

In early October, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent about 150 fighter jets to Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ) before Tsai made a speech in Taipei on October 10, which marked the 110th anniversary of the Republic of China (ROC).

Tsai said in her speech that maintaining the status quo where Taiwan and mainland China were separately governed was what the Taiwanese people wanted. The four national defense-related laws were amended shortly after her speech.

On October 19, Sheng Bin, the director of the National Defense Mobilization Department, Central Military Commission, noted in a NPC standing committee meeting that the third plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee had suggested back in November 2013 to perfect the national defense mobilization system.

He noted the fourth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee called in October 2019 to deepen reform of the system.

Sheng said the National Defense Mobilization Law, the Civil Air Defense Law, the National Defense Transportation Law and the National Defense Education Law should be amended to implement the said reform. He also said as the amendments would take some time to implement, some temporary fine-tunings should be made to meet urgent needs.

Based on a principle of “fully-led by the party, built by the government and used by the army,” the leadership and management of the national defense mobilization system will be improved, while the functions and responsibilities of different system departments will be more clearly defined by laws, said Sheng.

A National Defense Mobilization Commission operational unit, meanwhile, will be established to coordinate the use of civilian assets and reform military policy and system. These changes will be made in accordance with the rules set by the CPC Central Committee, State Council and Central Military Commission, said Sheng.

The system has been evolving over time. In November 1994, the State Council and the Party’s Central Military Commission decided to set up the National Defense Mobilization Commission to handle matters related to the army, economy and society.

In February 2010, the NPC standing committee passed the National Defense Mobilization Law, which states that the National Defense Mobilization Commission is controlled by the State Council and the Central Military Commission.

Premier Li Keqiang is the current chairman of the National Defense Mobilization Commission. It is unclear if Li will still stay in the position, but some military experts believe Xi now has full control of the commission with the recent legal changes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping may take control of the group. Photo: AFP

That’s apparently been seen in Xi’s recent military-related moves. On October 27, the Office of the Central Military Commission, chaired by Xi, approved a new rule to expand the coverage of medical schemes for Chinese soldiers. From January 1, 2022, a soldier’s spouse and underage children can enjoy free medical services while the parents of the soldier and his or her spouse can get discounts when using medical institutions near their homes.

The moves all come amid rising tensions over Taiwan that have put China and the US on a new collision course some fear could result in armed conflict.

On October 29, Liu Junchuan, deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the mainland, said at the “National Reunification and Chinese Rejuvenation” seminar that after reunification, Taiwan’s economic development would be greatly improved, while the island’s financial income would be used to improve local people’s livelihoods.

Liu added that Taiwanese people who support reunification would enjoy the right to administer Taiwan and participate in the construction of their motherland, meaning mainland China, in the future. He also said mainland China would punish the separatists advocating for “Taiwan independence.”

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome on Sunday (October 31), where the top envoys took photos together but did not shake hands or stage a Covid-safe elbow bump.

At the meeting, Wang blamed the US for supporting “Taiwan independence forces,” while Blinken said there was “no change” in the US’ longstanding commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act “to make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself.”

Wang’s charge comes amid reports that the US has stationed a small number of troops in Taiwan for training purposes. After the meeting, US State Department officials told media that the conversation was candid, constructive and productive.

“Taiwan problem is the most sensitive issue between China and the US. It will cause a subversive and overall damage to Sino-US relations if it is handled wrongly,” Wang said. “The true status quo of the Taiwan issue is that there is only one China, Taiwan is a part of China, and the mainland and Taiwan belong to the same country.”

Wang also said Taiwan authorities had repeatedly tried to break through the one-China framework and called on the US to pursue a real one-China policy instead of a fake one, adding that the US should not say one thing and do another.

Taiwanese soldiers on an armored vehicle Sunday in Taipei during the National Day Celebration, following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vow to unify Taiwan by peaceful means. Photo: AFP / Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto

Prior to the meeting, on October 26, Blinken urged United Nations member states to support Taiwan’s participation in the UN system. He said Taiwan had become a democratic success story, is critical to the global high-tech economy, and is a hub of travel, culture and education.

On October 28, Tsai confirmed to CNN that US troops were on the ground training Taiwanese soldiers. Tsai said Taiwan faced a rising threat from China but that she was willing to talk with Xi and that the two sides could “co-exist peacefully” as “two countries.”

“The power to decide when to punish the Taiwan independence powers and how to resolve Taiwan’s problems is on our side,” the Global Times, a unit of the state mouthpiece People’s Daily, said in a commentary on the same day.