China to improve military training to reach "combat standard"

BEIJING - China will improve military training to reach "combat standard", state media said on Thursday, as President Xi Jinping steps up efforts to modernise the armed forces in the face of bubbling territorial disputes.

"The level of Chinese military training will be raised to actual combat standard to improve the army's capabilities," the official Xinhua news agency said, citing an order from the powerful Central Military Commission. "Strengthening combat readiness should be viewed as a top priority," it added in a brief dispatch that gave no details.

The order came after Xi was appointed to a new role last weekend overseeing a group in charge of deepening military reform, adding to the list of bodies Xi is taking charge of in his rapid consolidation of power.

Xi said the country's military reform should be guided by the objective of building a "strong army".

Xi is already head of the military in his role as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

China is in an increasingly angry dispute with some of its neighbours, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, over claims to parts of the potentially oil and gas-rich South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.

China this month announced its biggest rise in military spending in three years, a strong signal that it is not about to back away from its growing assertiveness in Asia.

The government said it would increase the defence budget by 12.2 per cent this year to 808.23 billion yuan (S$165.7 billion), as China seeks to develop more high-tech weapons and to beef up coastal and air defences.

The 2014 defence budget is Xi's first since becoming president last year, and the spending increase appears to reflect his desire to build what he calls a strong, rejuvenated China.

Xi also recently urged military leaders to speed efforts to get the country's sole aircraft carrier combat-ready.

Aside from the carrier, China is developing a range of high-tech weaponry, from stealth fighters to systems to shoot down satellites.

China says such moves are purely for defensive purposes and to update its outmoded forces.