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China Accelerates Mobilization Prep with New Defense Teams, Split Strategic Force, More Funding for Top Military University

In China, the CCP is "pushing for changes that are yet to be seen in 100 years" with subtle preparations for swift national mobilization when the time comes.



A Chinese warship fires toward the shore during a military exercise near Fuzhou, China's Fujian Province, near Taiwan's Matsu Islands, April 8, 2023. (©Reuters via Kyodo)

A recent Financial Times article reported the surprising news that China's leader Xi Jinping accused the United States of trying to trick China into invading Taiwan. Xi also reportedly said that his country wouldn't take the bait. However, who is trying to trick whom? Three major developments in China that are related to military preparations tell us another story than the one Xi would have us believe.

National Defense Mobilization Professional Support Teams Established Across China

The first story is about military mobilization. Starting in 2023, many Chinese provinces formed a new entity known as the National Defense Mobilization Professional Support Team.

For instance, on April 2, 2024, Fujian Province established 16 such teams in Zhangzhou (漳州) City. The 1580 members of these teams include specialists in disaster relief, maritime search and rescue, medical aid, psychological defense, chemical and epidemic prevention, professional camouflage, firefighting, public security, civil defense engineering, transportation, economic mobilization, political mobilization, battlefield environment, communications, information technology, and special services.

Fujian is the closest Chinese province to Taiwan, making it strategically significant should a conflict arise in the Taiwan Strait. Establishing such extensive support teams in this province clearly has strategic implications. Including a 'chemical and epidemic prevention professional support team' is particularly alarming.

Another example of mobilization-related news comes from Xiamen City, a municipality in Fujian province located only approximately 200 miles from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. On May 10, authorities in Xiamen conducted a comprehensive emergency personnel evacuation and national defense mobilization drill. 

Wartime Drills Across China

The May 10 drill in Xiamen aimed to thoroughly assess the air raid warning system's effectiveness and enhance the capability to organize and execute national defense mobilization. Another aim was to boost societal awareness of and preparedness for national defense and disaster response.

The official report highlights that since late 2022, Xiamen has embarked on a new phase in its national defense mobilization. It is establishing a thorough, interconnected, and efficient system. This system not only focuses on wartime preparedness but also enhances the routine services provided by national defense mobilization.

Similar drills were conducted in Nanping (南平) city, Fujian province on May 11. 

Searching "national defense mobilization professional support teams" on the Chinese search engine Baidu reveals numerous reports indicating that many Chinese cities have formed similar teams and are conducting similar drills.

Screenshot of search result for "national defense mobilization professional support teams" on Baidu.

For example, in March 2024, Wenzhou (温州) City in Zhejiang Province launched its first National Defense Mobilization Electromagnetic Spectrum Professional Support Team.

Xiangyang (襄阳) City in Hubei Province established 12 such teams in July 2023. Thereafter in September 2023, Shiyan (十堰) City, also in Hubei, set up 10 national defense mobilization support teams and 10 industry action centers. In October 2023, Hangzhou (杭州) City in Zhejiang Province introduced a drone national defense mobilization professional support team. In December 2023, Shaoxing (绍兴) City in Zhejiang Province established 12 teams comprising 380 individuals.

Laying the Legal Groundwork for National Defense Mobilization

Why has the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) been establishing these national defense mobilization professional support teams across the country?

On October 23, 2021, the Chinese National People's Congress made several legal and regulatory adjustments to deepen the country's national defense mobilization system. These affected laws such as the National Defense Mobilization Law, Civil Air Defense Law, National Defense Transportation Law, and National Defense Education Law. The new adjustments addressed aspects of leadership, management, and resource command in national defense mobilization and related areas. They were temporary adjustments aimed at enhancing preparedness.

This tells us that since as early as 2021, the CCP has been laying a comprehensive legal groundwork for national defense mobilization.

It should be noted that the National Defense Mobilization Department was previously a subordinate department under the CCP's General Staff. Following these changes, however, it was elevated in status. The National Defense Mobilization Department is now tasked with directly managing an extensive network that includes at least 28 provincial military and garrison regions.

Local and National Cooperation

National defense mobilization is not just a central government initiative. Since late 2022, local governments across China have also been establishing national defense mobilization offices. These are built upon the existing infrastructure of civil defense offices. Under the new arrangement, local leaders emphasize the importance of prioritizing and proactively engaging in national defense mobilization.

Reports from party media say that these offices conduct training sessions to deepen understanding of national defense mobilization among their staff. Party media also report that the offices recognize the current national strategic tasks and focus on integrating these with local development.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend an official welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China May 16, 2024. (©Sputnik/Pool via Reuters)

Invasion Lessons from Russia

National defense mobilization offices have another job: enhancing coordination with military bodies. 

For instance, there was a Military and Coastal Defense Conference held in Xiamen, Fujian in February 2023. Speaking there, Xiamen Party Secretary Cui Yonghui stressed the need to "integrate national defense tasks into the overall economic and social development plans, to align military and local needs effectively, and to boost coastal defense capabilities."

The shift of some national defense mobilization responsibilities from the military to local governments raises questions. Analysts believe this strategy reflects lessons learned from Russia's challenges during the early stages of the invasion of Ukraine. Russia anticipated a swift victory in Ukraine but faced prolonged resistance. This highlighted issues like slow mobilization and poor resource allocation.

For the CCP, preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait involves comprehensive national defense mobilization. This includes transitioning various societal sectors into a state of war or emergency to support military operations. This task is too extensive for the military alone.

'National Defense Mobilization Law'  Ensures Maximum War Resources 

According to official statements, national defense mobilization encompasses several areas. These include the mobilization of armed forces, economy, air defense, civil defense, politics, science and technology, and strategic reserves. Additionally, authorities seek to bolster support in information, electromagnetic spectrum, meteorology, surveying, medical services, and high-tech equipment maintenance.

The recently established defense mobilization teams all focus on these areas.

Clearly, the creation of national defense mobilization offices and specialized support teams by local governments is designed to aid the CCP in full-scale mobilization during wartime. Another clear aim is to speed up the transformation from civilian to military resources.

Civilian Losses Deemed Insignificant

The National Defense Mobilization Law was enacted in 2010. It mandates that during wartime, all aspects of society and the economy, including energy and supplies, must revolve around the war effort. Even personal assets may be requisitioned. 

Essentially, the law aims to fully "mobilize the nation's human, financial, and material resources to secure victory in war." Losses suffered by the public in the name of war are deemed insignificant. 

This implies that once the CCP engages in war, the rate at which citizens are turned into cannon fodder will also increase.

Splitting the CCP's Strategic Support Force into 3

The second significant development in military preparedness occurred on April 20, 2024. On that date, the CCP's Strategic Support Force was split into 3 separate forces. They are the Information Support Force, Military Space Force, and Cyberspace Force. This restructuring aims to enhance the PLA's specialization in these areas and improve its capabilities against the United States.

Additionally, this move helps dismantle entrenched military factions, facilitating Xi's consolidation of military control.

Top Defense-Related University Sees Biggest Increase in Funding

A third major development concerning military readiness is a historic shift in priorities regarding the funding of China's major universities. In a recent study of national university funding rankings, the institution that saw the largest increase in funding was not the renowned Tsinghua or Peking University, but rather Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT). 

Latest Ranking and 5-Year Trend of Budgetary Expenditures of Top 10 Universities in China, 2024 (Source: Planet Data)
English Translation of Latest Ranking and 5-Year Trend of Budgetary Expenditures of Top 10 Universities in China, 2024 (Source: Planet Data) 

According to data released by education analyst Planet Data, HIT is ranked fifth in terms of absolute funding value for 2024, but it leads all Chinese universities in terms of growth rate. Its funding surged from 16.75 billion yuan ($2.31 billion USD) in 2023 to 19.463 billion yuan ($2.68 billion) in 2024, an increase of 2.7 billion yuan ($370 million) in just one year.

Moreover, it is evident that since 2021, the budget of Harbin Institute of Technology has been skyrocketing at an extraordinary pace. HIT leads the nation with a compound annual growth rate of 21.7%, outpacing Tsinghua University (7.6%) and Peking University (6.2%).

'Seven Sons of National Defense'

Why does HIT enjoy such preference? Its position is linked to its additional role as one of the renowned 'Seven Sons of National Defense'.

The 'Seven Sons of National Defense' are seven key military-focused universities under the direct supervision of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. This group includes Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin Engineering University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beihang University, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Northwestern Polytechnical University.

Harbin Institute of Technology (©TowerCard via Wikimedia Commons)

These seven institutions are pivotal in China's national defense science and technology sector. They are also among the seven universities most impacted by US sanctions against the CCP. HIT is notably the strongest among them.

Incidentally, during Russian President Vladimir Putin's May 2024 visit to China, he specifically toured the Harbin Institute of Technology. While there, Putin engaged in discussions with HIT students. HIT was the only university Putin visited.

This visit underscores the de facto military alliance between China and Russia. Xi Jinping clearly aimed to showcase to Putin the most significant of China's 'Seven Sons of National Defense'.

Achievements of Harbin Institute of Technology

Since the CCP regime's inception, Harbin Institute of Technology has produced 51 generals and over 450 chief engineers in aerospace and national defense. It also launched China's first university-led independently developed small satellite.

Additionally, HIT pioneered China's first satellite-to-earth laser link communication, developed the country's first chess-playing and speaking computer, and designed the first new system radar. HIT also designed the first arc welding robot and spot welding robot. The Institute additionally developed the first nano-satellite independently designed and controlled by university students.

In the 2022 rankings of scientific research achievements transformation among Chinese universities, HIT secured the No. 1 position nationwide. In terms of research output, it was No. 2 in China. 

Comparison of indicators between Harbin Institute of Technology and the top 50 universities in China. Source: Guangdong University Science and Technology Achievement Transformation Center.

In this graphic, the blue line represents HIT and the green dotted line represents the average of the top 50 universities in China.

Increase in Budget: Broader Strategic Plan for Future

An article by a Chinese think tank argues, "The substantial increase in the budget for Harbin Institute of Technology goes beyond mere inter-university competition; it is part of a broader strategic plan for the future. This is about forging the nation's defenses."

The article concludes by saying, 

It is essential (for China) to address the unprecedented shifts expected over the next century and to enhance the ability to switch from peacetime to wartime. National defense is of utmost importance, more significant than Mount Tai. With ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and renewed tensions in the Middle East... Perhaps, we are closer to the smoke of battle than we think.

Every nation and individual must fully prepare to navigate these significant changes effectively.

While US President Joe Biden is still talking about maintaining a "competitive relationship" with China, Russia and the CCP are already collaborating on "pushing for changes that are yet to be seen in 100 years." Although the CCP has not engaged in overt military aggression like Russia, its preparations for a swift transition to wartime are ongoing, albeit subtly.

If this reality is overlooked, the free world is headed for even bigger trouble than it already faces.


Author: Jennifer Zeng
Find articles by Jennifer Zeng on JAPAN Forward. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) and on her blog page, Jennifer's World.