Dare to Face the "Strong Enemy 强敌": How Xi Jinping Has Made the PLA Talk about the United States

By Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga

This is another in the ongoing series of guest posts on Sinocism, this one by Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, an Associate Policy Researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

Dare to Face the Strong Enemy: 

How Xi Jinping Has Made the PLA Talk about the United States

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Xi Jinping’s efforts to improve the Chinese military’s performance in a future war, if the CCP’s political objectives cannot be achieved through other means, has been a staple of his broader military modernization program. When Xi came to power in 2012, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was well along on its hardware modernization but clearly had internal doubts over its battlefield performance, so Xi has called for the PLA to become a force that can “fight and win” (能打胜仗)1. Perhaps the most pressing problem was that it was racked with corruption so badly that a sitting general and close friend of Xi, General Liu Yuan, reportedly said, “Only our own corruption can destroy us and cause our armed forces to be defeated without fighting.”2 Another problem, however, was that its soldiers haven’t fought a war in over 40 years and weren’t psychologically ready for the strains of modern war.3

The PLA’s focus on the United States as its benchmark for military modernization and as a potential future adversary is well known.4 But what is new is how the PLA talks about these efforts: under Xi, this focus on the United States is increasingly obvious. In an authoritarian system, rhetoric matters, especially the choice of words.5 In support of Xi’s desire to prepare the Chinese military for a future conflict, as Ryan Martinson explained in 2016, “Since early 2013, the PLA has conducted a political campaign to cultivate xuexing (血性)—courage, or valor—in its soldier, sailors, and airmen. Prompted by instructions from Xi Jinping, this campaign has sought to ensure that the services exhibit the aggressiveness needed to defeat a powerful adversary [strong enemy]. It was initiated due to a perceived lack of warrior spirit in the military […and] suggest[s] that Chinese leaders have grave doubts about the ability of the PLA to confront a powerful adversary such as the United States.”6 Other key components of this effort beyond steeling troops psychologically are increasing the combat realism of PLA training and improved readiness across the force, as Xi described in the 2017 19th Party Congress Work Report: “A military is built to fight. Our military must regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work and focus on how to win when it is called on. We will take solid steps to ensure military preparedness for all strategic directions, and make progress in combat readiness in both traditional and new security fields.”7 One underappreciated aspect of this effort is how the PLA is talking increasingly openly about preparing for war with the United States, especially in 2020.

The United States as the “Strong Enemy”

The CCP, including the PLA, has long referred to some adversaries as a qiangdi (强敌), generally translated as “strong enemy” or “powerful adversary.” Within the PLA, “strong enemy” can be a general description of an opponent, or a euphemism for a specific country.8 Based on the term itself, this could apply to several potential adversaries for China: not just the United States, but also Japan or India, perhaps even Taiwan or Russia. When referring to a specific country, the “strong enemy” has changed over time as the CCP’s main opponent of political struggle.9

It has long been clear that in contemporary China, in practice, the “strong enemy” is the United States.10 The PLA’s focus on the United States as the main target of its military struggle is not new, as even the first Department of Defense (DoD) China Military Power Report in 2002 noted that “Beijing’s military training exercises increasingly focus on the United States as an adversary.”11 Authoritative PLA strategy documents, including nominally classified texts meant for internal audiences, have also long used “strong enemy” to mean the United States, based on the description of a high-tech superior adversary with nuclear weapons that is poised to “intervene” in China’s “main strategic direction” (Taiwan).12 And, occasionally, the PLA uses “strong enemy” as a very clear stand-in for the United States for training.13 This even comes out in external propaganda, such as a January 2021 Global Times post on Twitter about the PLA Southern Theater Command rehearsing “battlefield English” phrases, so that “in our contest with the strong enemy, we can precisely express our intention and transmit our voice […and] avoid misunderstandings.”14 None of this is news to the PLA-watching community.15 The intentional decision to keep using this euphemism despite clarity over the actual meaning is also not a surprise, just like how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs often chastises “a certain major power” or “outside countries” (the United States). This gives the CCP a fig-leaf that it is not hostile to the United States, and perhaps Beijing is reserving explicitly naming the United States for deterrence signaling in a crisis.

Before Xi, the Chinese leadership rarely used the term publicly, and when it was used, it was in the context of historical enemies, framing China as the inferior country overcoming a superior opponent.16 Jiang Zemin never used the term specifically, but the closest he came was a 2001 speech extolling the “people’s war” concept as having “defeated strong enemies at home and abroad.”17 Hu Jintao only used the term once, in his speech commemorating the anniversary of Li Xiannian’s 100th birthday in 2001, referencing how Li “[showed] his strategy, tactics and command art of leading a large corps to fight against the strong enemy,” namely the Japanese, during WWII.18 But it is telling that under Xi, the way China tells its story has been changing.

Xi Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Xi, unlike previous Chinese leaders, is now much more openly discussing the importance of preparations for war with the “strong enemy,” namely the United States.19 In many ways, the Xi Jinping era is generally characterized by trends actually initiated by his predecessors—China’s military modernization was kickstarted by Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao started China down the path of a bolder approach to the world. But one clear trait that Xi can claim is getting the PLA ready for war, and part of that is changing how the PLA talks about war—specifically, how the PLA talks amongst the rank and file about who a future war might be against. This serves both as a way to rally around the flag with a clearly defined enemy but, more relevant for this article, it is also to force the PLA to really prepare for war against specifically the United States.

Xi has used “strong enemy” in reference to historical enemies, but it is clear this rhetoric represents an intentional shift.20 Jiang and Hu also made numerous speeches about the CCP’s fights against Japan in WWII and the United States in Korea, but never used “strong enemy” as general secretary. In September 2015 at a ceremony for veterans for the 70th anniversary of the “War of Resistance Against Japan” (WWII), Xi said, “In modern times, in the face of repeated invasions by strong enemies, the Chinese nation has not succumbed, but has continued to gather teams to fight stubbornly, vowing to fight the invaders to the end.”21 Similarly in September 2020 for the 75th anniversary, Xi said, “In the arduous War of Resistance Against Japan […] The Chinese people fought the strong enemy with iron bones.”22 Xi at other times has similarly extoled the heroism of veterans from these wars, even during a May 2015 visit to Belarus when he met with Belarusian veterans from WWII, hailing them for “not fearing the strong enemy,” a PLA catchphrase discussed below.23

More importantly, Xi is also now using “strong enemy” to refer to a current real-world opponent for PLA operational units. Xi may have used the term in a closed speech to the PLARF in December 2012 which focused on the importance of strategic deterrence, though the full transcript is not public.24 In February 2015, Xi’s first public use of the term, according to a review of his remarks in PRC official media, came during a visit to the PLAAF 36th bomber division base near Xi’an.25 This visit was a significant one for the PLAAF bomber force, likely representing Xi’s personal endorsement of the bomber flights throughout Asia that would start a month later.26 Addressing the troops, Xi said, “Building a strong People's Air Force requires continuous struggle by officers and soldiers from generation to generation. We must have the goal of strengthening the military in mind, strong ideological and political [convictions], and resolutely obey the Party's commands, so as to fight in the open skies for the Party and fly for thousands of miles without getting lost. We must have strong combat skills and strengthen actual combat training to ensure that we can go up, fight and win at critical moments. Our fighting style must be strong, carrying forward the spirit of not being afraid of hardship, and not being afraid of death. We must dare to charge into battle, and we must dare to face the strong enemy [敢于迎战强敌].”27 Such a clear link by Xi between PLA operations—especially bomber deterrence patrols that target Guam28—makes clear he wants frontline PLA troops to focus on the United States and have more confidence that they might actually win.

PLA Leadership Follows Suit

Xi’s emphasis on acknowledging the “strong enemy” as the focus of PLA training has trickled down to the rest of the military. According to the DoD’s 2019 China Military Power Report,“In 2018, China published a new Outline of Training and Evaluation that emphasized realistic and joint training across all warfare domains, and covered missions and tasks aimed at ‘strong military opponents’.”29 In January 2020, the PLA’s annual training guidance, signed by Xi Jinping, called for the troops to “implement the military strategy of the new era, strengthen the ideology of fighting, leading troops, and training troops to fight wars, and keep an eye on the strong enemy opponent [紧盯强敌对手], pay great attention to actual combat military training, maintain a high level of alertness, and ensure that the call is coming, the come can fight, and the battle will win.”30 Others on the Central Military Commission (CMC) have also adopted this new blunt language, with PLAN Commander Wu Shengli arguing in 2014 that “facing maritime infringement […and] the strong enemy continuously increasing its maritime containment against us,” China must “give full play to the Navy’s mobile and offensive force employment characteristics and operational strengths,” in part by “actively expanding the maritime strategic defense depth, implementing offshore mobile operations along the strategic internal lines, and flexibly carrying out long-sea attack operations along the strategic external lines.”31 The specific focus on training for the “strong enemy” has been reiterated by several articles in PLA Daily by the CMC Training and Administration Department personnel.32

Xi’s invocation of historical “strong enemies” has similarly been amplified by the rest of the PLA. Then-Vice Chairman of the CMC Fan Changlong also wrote in August 2015, “Looking back on history, we admire our ancestors who were not afraid of strong enemies [不畏强敌] and risked their lives.”33 While Xi’s October 2020 speech on the 70th anniversary of the PRC’s intervention in the Korean War received coverage for his statement that “We Chinese know well we must speak to invaders with the language they understand: So we use war to stop war, we use military might to stop hostility, we win peace and respect with victory,” he also made clear that China defeated the United States in what was an existential struggle for the newly formed People’s Republic: “The forces of China and North Korea defeated their armed-to-teeth rival and shattered the myth of invincibility of the U.S. military.”34 Though Xi did not specifically refer to the United States as the “strong enemy” in that speech, others in the PLA made that connection quite clear. This extends to drawing historical memory from Korean War veterans, who in 2020 for the first time were described by the official announcement as fighting the “strong enemy” in the Korean War.35 Moreover, an exhibit on the Korean War at the PLA history museum that Xi toured in October 2020 similarly hailed the veterans for their “advantageous spirit of not fearing the strong enemy and defeating the strong enemy.”36

This extends to the PLA’s top officer training schools for its best and brightest. Scholars at the Academy of Military Science (AMS) and National Defense University (NDU) are by far the most frequent publishers of PLA Daily articles that reference the “strong enemy,” likely reflecting the discourse at these institutions. The United States has even featured in PLAN Command College capstone wargames over the years as the “strong enemy” that intervenes in Chinese crises with its neighbors (mainly Japan and Vietnam).37 Making a clear link between the PLA’s own vision for itself and the need to be prepared to defeat the United States, the Dean of NDU’s National Security College wrote in August 2018, “To build a world-class military, it is a necessity to have the true ability to fight against and balance the strong enemy. The war we should prepare for is the war against the strong enemy, and the one we should be able to fight against should be the strong enemy. We must adhere to bottom line thinking, train with the focus on the strong enemy, prepare to go shoulder-to-shoulder with the strong enemy, plan to overcome the strong enemy, and comprehensively improve the ability to prepare for war in the new era.”38

PLA Media Reflects Xi’s New Tone

Indicating that this rhetorical shift is intended to reach the PLA’s rank and file, references to the “strong enemy” in PLA Daily have increased dramatically under Xi. Under Jiang and Hu over 2000-2012, the PLA Daily averaged less than 40 articles per year that mentioned the “strong enemy.” Yet after Xi took power, references in PLA Daily more than tripled to 140 articles per year over 2013-2019, and as U.S.-China relations plummeted in 2020, references spiked to 245 articles.39 The second half of 2020 was an especially heady time for PLA Daily, as 12 percent of all the articles referenced the “strong enemy,” and this extended to the People’s Daily publishing two editorials, newspaper’s most authoritative articles, referencing the “strong enemy.”40 One September 2020 PLA Daily article even used “strong enemy” 13 times.41 As noted above, the internal PLA doctrinal publications have long made clear the United States was the PLA’s top planning threat, and references to the “strong enemy” in PLA technical journals have stayed roughly constant across leadership eras. This increase also contrasts with another CCP boogeyman phrase, “hostile forces” (敌对势力), which has actually gone down in recent years (since 2015) in People’s Daily and PLA Daily, despite some high-profile references by Xi.42

This emphasis by Xi for pushing the PLA toward preparing to fight the United States is evident in the most popular catchphrases in PLA Daily:

  • “Don’t fear the strong enemy” (不畏强敌)

  • “Defeat the strong enemy” (战胜强敌)

  • “Face the strong enemy” (面对强敌)

  • “Take aim at the strong enemy” (瞄准强敌)

As one phrase, used in multiple PLA Daily articles, puts it succinctly: “The so-called strong enemy is certainly not strong at all times and in all places, let alone invulnerable. No matter how strong the opponent is, once [we] find their weakness, [we] can find a chance to win.”43 This is further captured in other key terms referenced in the articles alongside “strong enemy,” such as “realistic training”(实战化训练), “combat standards” (战斗力标准), preparation for military struggle (军事斗争准备), “be able to fight and win” (能打胜), nature of war (战争本质), intelligence weapons (智能武器), commanders (指挥员), and “world class” [military] (世界一流).44


So what does this all mean? Should Xi Jinping be taken literally or seriously? Does this loud rhetoric reflect an insecure CCP and CMC leadership seeking to deter an imposing United States by masquerading with swagger? Or is this a transparent reflection of Chinese leadership thinking about trends in the U.S.-China relationship heading toward conflict?

Xi should be taken literally for his clear acknowledgement that the United States is China’s main geopolitical (and ideological) rival.45 As Xi Jinping said at a closed speech, according to a local CCP official as reported by the New York Times this week, “The United States is the biggest threat to our country’s development and security.”46 And Xi should be taken seriously for his effort to bolster PLA rank and file confidence for their chances in a future conflict with the United States.

The fact that PLA Daily references to the “strong enemy” spiked in 2020, as U.S.-China relations plummeted, is more than pure coincidence. First, public reports reveal Chinese concerns over the risks of former President Trump starting a war in fall 2020.47 Second, the PLA was being even more overt with its deterrence signaling toward the United States, evident in the DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missile tests into the South China Sea where U.S. aircraft carriers had just been.48 Taken together, these suggest the PLA was perhaps really trying to deter the United States from what it perceived as a true risk of war.

It is unlikely that Xi wants or seeks war with the United States, but this rhetorical shift suggests the Chinese leadership recognizes that U.S.-China relations may deteriorate to the point of conflict, and they are preparing for that undesirable but real possibility. The CCP’s acceptance of this possibility is likely shaped by their view of the United States as a declining power, as Western scholars have noted.49 The best thing the United States can do is to change Beijing’s perception of the United States as a declining power.


“Xi Jinping: Strive to build a people's army that listens to the party's command and can win battles” [“习近平:努力建设一支听党指挥能打胜仗作风优良的人民军队”], Xinhua, March 12, 2013, http://cpc.people.com.cn/n/2013/0312/c64094-20755159.html


John Garnaut, “Rotting From Within,” Foreign Policy, April 16, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/04/16/rotting-from-within/


For broader analysis on current PLA leadership concerns, see: Dennis Blasko, “The Chinese Military Speaks To Itself, Revealing Doubts,” War on the Rocks, February 18, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/02/the-chinese-military-speaks-to-itself-revealing-doubts/


See, for example: Michael Chase, Cristina Garafola, and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, “Chinese Perceptions of and Responses to US Conventional Military Power,” Asian Security 14:2, 2018, pp. 136-154.


David Bandurski, “The Party Is Struggling,” China Media Project, September 6, 2019, https://chinamediaproject.org/2019/09/06/the-party-is-struggling/.


Ryan Martinson, “The Courage to Fight and Win: The PLA Cultivates Xuexing for the Wars of the Future,” China Brief, June 1, 2016, https://jamestown.org/program/the-courage-to-fight-and-win-the-pla-cultivates-xuexing-for-the-wars-of-the-future/.


Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” speech at 19th Party Congress, October 18, 2017, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/19thcpcnationalcongress/2017-11/04/content_34115212.htm.


Various PLA texts do occasionally suggest there are gradations of “enemies,” suggest as the “strongest enemy,” the “secondary enemy” and the “weak enemy.” See for example: “Be the leader of the next war” [“做下一场战争的主导者”], PLA Daily, October 10, 2017, http://military.people.com.cn/n1/2017/1010/c1011-29578129.html.


For a frame of the “strong enemy” as multiple historical adversaries, see: Ren Zhongping [任仲平], “The light of victory leading the revival” [“引领复兴的胜利之光”], People’s Daily, July 28, 2017, http://cpc.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0728/c64387-29433647.html.


The PLA rarely makes explicit the United States is the “strong enemy.” However, for a clearer reference than most, though perhaps in an obscure place, a PLA patent by PLAAF Engineering College on military communications says, “Although the current international situation maintains an overall peaceful and steady posture, with the adjustment and implementation of the U.S. military's return to the Asia-Pacific strategy, once a war breaks out in this direction, it will be a highly informatized land, sea and air joint operation under the background of strong enemy intervention.” See: Qi Zisen [齐子森], Sui Ping [眭萍], Guo Ying [郭英], Xu Hua [许华, Wang Yuzhou [王宇宙], “A kind of communication emitter Signals classifying identification method” [“一种通信辐射源信号分类识别方法”], Chinese Patent #CN109446910A, granted March 8, 2019.


Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2002 Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2002), p. 2.


For example, see: Yu Jixun [于际训] and Li Tilin [李体林], eds., Science of Second Artillery Campaigns [第二炮兵战役学], Beijing: PLA Press [解放军出版社], March 2004; Zhang Yuliang [张玉良], ed., The Science of Campaigns [战役学] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, 2006); Li Yousheng [李有升], ed., The Science of Joint Campaigns Textbook [联合战役学教程] (Beijing: Military Science Press, 2012); Academy of Military Science Military Strategy Department ed., Science of Military Strategy [战略学], 3rd edition (Beijing, China: Academy of Military Science Press, 2013), p. 117.


For a review of PLAN exercises that feature the “strong enemy,” see: Ryan D. Martinson, “Counter-intervention in Chinese naval strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2020, pp. 1-23. An article on a 2016 PLAAF exercise recounted, “The intervention of a third party as a simulated strong enemy was introduced into the drills.” See: Dong Bin, “Win Gold Medals and Become Ace Units Through the 'Brand-name' Training Events,” Kongjun Bao [空军报], June 30, 2016, p. 1.


For example, see: Michael Chase et al, China’s Incomplete Military Transformation: Assessing the Weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR800/RR893/RAND_RR893.pdf; Elsa Kania, Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, November 2017), https://s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/Battlefield-Singularity-November-2017.pdf; Ian Easton, “How the PLA Really Sees America,” Project 2049 Institute, April 9, 2018, https://project2049.net/2018/04/09/how-the-pla-really-sees-america/; Ryan D. Martinson, “Counter-intervention in Chinese naval strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2020, pp. 1-23.


Based on review of Jiang Zemin’s collected works and Hu Jintao’s remarks as captured by People’s Daily (his collected works were published in 2016 but not available online). For more on historical memory, see: Elsa Kania, “Not a ‘New Era’—Historical Memory and Continuities in U.S.-China Rivalry,” Strategy Bridge, May 7, 2019, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2019/5/7/not-a-new-erahistorical-memory-and-continuities-in-us-china-rivalry.


Chinese text is “人民战争打败了国内外强大的敌人.” Jiang Zemin, “Create a favorable strategic situation and enhance national strategic capabilities” [“营造有利战略态势, 增强国家战略能力”], speech to an important meeting of the PLA, October 31, 2001, available in Jiang Zemin, Jiang Zemin’s Collected Works [江泽民文选] Volume 3, p. 357.


Chinese text is “他统帅大兵团同强敌作战的战略战术和指挥艺术.” Hu Jintao, “Speech at the symposium to commemorate the 100th birthday of Comrade Li Xiannian” [“在纪念李先念同志诞辰100周年座谈会上的讲话”], Xinhua, June 23, 2009, http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2009-06-24/085015842159s.shtml.


Based on database of Xi Jinping’s important speeches maintained by People’s Daily Online (not all speeches listed are actual transcripts), see: http://jhsjk.people.cn.


Xi may have also used the term to refer to the novel coronavirus in September 2020, as “a strong enemy invisible to the naked eye,” but it is unclear if those are his words or the Xinhua summary. Chinese text is “动员举国力量来围剿新冠病毒这个肉眼看不见的强敌.” See: “Xi Jinping Leads China’s War Against the ‘Virus’” [“习近平领导中国战 ‘疫’”], Xinhua, September 7, 2020, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/31852633.


Chinese text is “面对强敌的一次次入侵.” See: Xi Jinping, “Speech at the Ceremony of Issuing the Commemorative Medal of "The 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People's Anti-Japanese War’” [“在颁发“中国人民抗日战争胜利70周年”纪念章仪式上的讲话”], Xinhua, September 2, 2015, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/27542514. Of note, Xi struck a different tone the next day in his more public speech facing Tiananmen with world leaders: Xi Jinping, “Address at the Commemoration of The 70th Anniversary of The Victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and The World Anti-Fascist War,” Xinhua, September 3, 2015, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2015victoryanniv/2015-09/03/content_21783362.htm.


Chinese is “中国人民以铮铮铁骨战强敌.” See: “Speech by Xi Jinping at the Symposium Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War” [“习近平在纪念中国人民抗日战争暨世界反法西斯战争胜利75周年座谈会上的讲话”], Xinhua, September 3, 2020, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/31848723.


Chinese text is “白俄罗斯人民不畏强敌.” See: “Under the banner of peaceful development-a summary of President Xi Jinping's visit to three countries in Europe and Asia” [“在和平发展的旗帜下——习近平主席访问欧亚三国综述”], Xinhua, May 13, 2015, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/26991191 Belarusian Patriotic War History Museum. Xi’s comments came during his visit to the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum on May 11, 2015. See: “Xi Jinping Meets with Representatives of Belarusian Veterans of World War II,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 11, 2015, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/cgbelfast/eng/zgxw_1/t1263528.htm.


Ryan Martinson notes that PRC media has suggested Xi used the term in a closed speech to the Second Artillery (now PLARF) in December 2012. In reality, it appears this is a summary of Xi’s speech, and it is not quite clear Xi specifically said “strong enemy.” It is possible that Xi used the term “strong enemy,” but PRC media have not officially attributed those words to him. Some PRC media accounts of the speech have included the term 强敌, but that may be editorializing. For the account via one book of Xi speeches, see: General Secretary Xi Jinping's Series of Important Speeches [习近平总书记系列重要讲话读本] (Beijing, China: People’s Publishing House), 2014, available here: http://theory.people.com.cn/n/2014/0714/c40531-25275284-2.html. For an account of the speech that references 强敌, with the text “立足最复杂最困难情况搞好应对强敌军事干预战略筹划,” see: “Building a powerful information-based strategic missile force” [“建设强大的信息化战略导弹部队”], China National Radio Military, May 13, 2016, http://military.cnr.cn/ztch/zglz/toutiao/20160513/t20160513_522138455.html. For Ryan’s discussion, see: Ryan D. Martinson, “Counter-intervention in Chinese naval strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2020, pp. 1-23.


For coverage of the visit, see: “Xi Jinping boards new bomber during NW China tour,” Xinhua, February 17, 2015, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-02/17/content_19614701.htm.


Derek Grossman, Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Logan Ma, and Michael S. Chase, China’s Long-Range Bomber Flights: Drivers and Implications (Santa Monica: RAND, 2018), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2567.html.


 敢于迎战强敌 can be translated literally as “dare to welcome war with the strong enemy.” See: “Xi Jinping inspected the troops stationed in Xi'an on the eve of the Spring Festival” [“习近平春节前夕视察看望驻西安部队”], Xinhua, February 17, 2015, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/26580803. Xi’s quote has been used as motivation for the PLAAF. See: Gao Zhiwen [高志文] and Li Jianwen [李建文], “A Certain Air Force Bomber Division: ‘God of War’ Accelerates Taking Off” [“空军轰炸航空兵某师:“战神”加速换羽腾飞”], PLA Daily, August 26, 2020, http://www.81.cn/2020zt/2020-08/26/content_9890430.htm.


Tara Copp, “China has practiced bombing runs targeting Guam, US says,” Military Times, October 31, 2017, https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2017/10/31/china-has-practiced-bombing-runs-against-guam-us-says/; Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018 ( Washington, DC: Department of Defense, May 16, 2018), p. 118.


Although the DoD report does not explicitly say the PLA training guidelines use the term 强敌, it appears likely that’s the original Chinese phrase. See: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, May 2019), p. 13.


The Chinese text is “贯彻习近平强军思想,贯彻新时代军事战略方针,强化当兵打仗、带兵打仗、练兵打仗思想,紧盯强敌对手,大抓实战化军事训练,保持高度戒备状态,确保召之即来、来之能战、战之必胜.” See: “Xi Jinping signs the Central Military Commission Order No. 1 of 2020 to issue a training mobilization order to the whole army” [“习近平签署中央军委2020年1号命令 向全军发布开训动员令”], Xinhua, January 3, 2020, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/31532956.


Wu Shengli [吴胜利], “Learn Profound Historical Lessons from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and Unswervingly Take the Path of Planning and Managing Maritime Affairs, Safeguarding Maritime Rights and Interests, and Building a Powerful Navy” [“深刻吸取甲午战争历史教训坚定不移走经略海洋维护海权发展海军之路”], China Military Science [中国军事科学] 4:1, 2014.


For example, see: Cheng Ronggui [程荣贵], "The Method of Training Soldiers is to Manage for What is Important” [“练兵之法 管之为要”], PLA Daily, August 14, 2018, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2018-08/14/content_213321.htm; Cheng Ronggui [程荣贵], "Maintain and Practice the Good Image of the New Era Military" ["维护和践行新时代军队好样子"], PLA Daily, November 4, 2020, http://www.81.cn/yw/2020-11/04/content_9930303.htm; Tian Xiaowei [田晓蔚], "Take Responsibility For Cultivating Military Training and Preparing for War" ["担好培养练兵备战行家里手职责"], PLA Daily, December 10, 2020, http://www.81.cn/yw/2020-12/10/content_9950445.htm.


The Chinese text is “我们既敬佩先辈们不畏强敌、以命相搏的血性和胆气.” Fan Changlong [范长龙], “Keep in mind the history of the War of Resistance against Japan, carry forward the spirit of the War of Resistance against Japan” [“铭记抗战历史 弘扬抗战精神 为实现党在新形势下的强军目标而努力奋斗”], Seeking Truth [求是], August 2015, http://www.xinhuanet.com//politics/2015-08/02/c_128083927_2.htm.


“70 years after milestone war, Xi urges pooling strength for national rejuvenation,” Xinhua, October 24, 2020, http://en.people.cn/n3/2020/1024/c90000-9772640.html; Gerry Shih, “China, and Xi, commemorate the Korean War as victory over United States,” Washington Post, October 23, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/china-and-xi-commemorate-the-korean-war-as-a-victory-over-america/2020/10/23/122a403e-144e-11eb-a258-614acf2b906d_story.html 


The Chinese text is “邀请3位抗美援朝老英雄来到现场,请他们讲述志愿军不畏强敌、不怕牺牲的英雄故事.” See: Li Longyi [李龙伊], “Jointly released the advanced deeds of the "Most Beautiful Veterans" in 2020” [“联合发布二〇二〇年度“最美退役军人”先进事迹”], People’s Daily, December 19, 2020, http://politics.people.com.cn/n1/2020/1219/c1001-31971938.html


The Chinese text is “不畏强敌、制胜强敌的精神优势.” See: “Inherit and carry forward the great spirit of resisting U.S. aggression and aiding Korea in the new era, striving for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” [“在新时代继承和弘扬伟大抗美援朝精神 为实现中华民族伟大复兴而奋”], People’s Daily, October 20, 2020, http://jhsjk.people.cn/article/31897999.


Ryan D. Martinson, “Counter-intervention in Chinese naval strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2020, pp. 1-23.


Ren Tianyou [任天佑], “Comprehensively Improve the Ability to Prepare for War in the New Era” [“全面提高新时代备战打仗能力”], PLA Daily, August 22, 2018, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2018-08/22/content_214013.htm.


This increase also holds true looking at the percentage of PLA Daily articles referencing “strong enemy,” which rose from roughly 1 percent over 2000-2012 to 2.3 percent over 2013-2019 and jumped to 3.2 percent in 2020. It cannot be explained to references to COVID-19, despite Xi’s use of the phrase once. Data drawn from CNKI.





The second half of 2020 represented 71 percent of all “strong enemy” references in PLA Daily in 2020. For the article with 13 mentions of “strong enemy,” see: Kai Lanyu [开栏语], “Do Not Fear the Strong Enemy, Dare to Struggle” [“不畏强敌, 敢于斗争”], PLA Daily, September 29, 2020, http://www.qstheory.cn/llwx/2020-09/29/c_1126557171.htm.


Alastair Iain Johnston, “Anti-foreigner propaganda is not spiking in China,” Washington Post, December 2, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/02/anti-foreigner-propaganda-is-not-spiking-in-china/; Alastair Iain Johnston, “Is Chinese Nationalism Rising?: Evidence from Beijing,” International Security 41:3, Winter 2016/2017, pp. 7-43; Jeremy Page and Lingling Wei, “China’s Leader Wages a War on Two Fronts—Viral and Political,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-leader-wages-a-war-on-two-frontsviral-and-political-11581116451.


The Chinese text is “所谓强敌并不是时时强、处处强,更不是无懈可击。再强大的对手,一旦找到其软肋,就能找到取胜的机会.” See: Zhang Tian [张天], “To Win the War, the Front Sight Must Be Pointed at the Strong Enemy” [“胜战准星要对准强敌”], PLA Daily, August 8, 2019, http://www.81.cn/jwgd/2019-08/08/content_9583065.htm; Li Jin [李劲], “Use the Strong Enemy as a ‘Whetstone’” [“把强敌对手作为 ‘磨刀石’”], PLA Daily, December 20, 2020, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2020-12/20/content_278637.htm. For a more operational PLA analysis of defeating the “strong enemy” that sounds much like the United States, see: Ye Huabin [叶华斌] and Ai Zhengsong [艾正松], “How to fight "close to the enemy" in the information age” [“信息时代如何 ‘近敌’ 作战”], PLA Daily, January 16, 2020, http://www.81.cn/jfjbmap/content/2020-01/16/content_252327.htm.


According to CNKI.


To be fair, the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy labeled China a “strategic competitor,” likely reinforcing Beijing’s belief that this view is mutual. See: Michael Swaine, “Chinese Views on the U.S. National Security and National Defense Strategies,” China Leadership Monitor, May 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/CLM56FINAL.pdf.


Chris Buckley, “‘The East Is Rising’: Xi Maps Out China’s Post-Covid Ascent,” New York Times, March 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/03/world/asia/xi-china-congress.html.


Anna Fifield, “China worries that Trump, facing a tough election, may provoke a new fight,” Washington Post, September 18, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-trump-election-coronavirus-taiwan-military/2020/09/18/c6c8eb36-ed01-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html.


Kristin Huang, “Chinese military fires ‘aircraft-carrier killer’ missile into South China Sea in ‘warning to the United States’,” South China Morning Post, August 26, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3098972/chinese-military-launches-two-missiles-south-china-sea-warning.


Rush Doshi, “Beijing Believes Trump Is Accelerating American Decline,” Foreign Policy, October 12, 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/12/china-trump-accelerating-american-decline/; Julian Gewirtz, “China Thinks America Is Losing,” Foreign Affairs, October, 13, 2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-10-13/china-thinks-america-losing.