China's Xi stresses military modernization in pre-new year visit

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the first meeting of the French-Chinese business council in Beijing, China, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ludovic Marin/Pool

US-LUNAR-NEWYEAR-CHINA-DEFENCE:China's Xi stresses military modernization in pre-new year visit

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed military modernization and technological advances during meetings with servicemen and women ahead of the Lunar New Year, state media said.

Chinese leaders generally use the time around the festival to make inspection trips around the country where they flag important policy initiatives or areas of concern for the year ahead.

The week-long holiday starts on Thursday, the eve of the new year. It is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel to their home towns, many for the only time in the year.

Xi has made the upgrading of China's armed forces a key policy plank, investing in a range of new technologies including stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and missiles.

On a visit to a satellite launch site in southwestern China's Sichuan province on Saturday, Xi told senior officers they should work with more commitment and be steadfast in building China's strength in aerospace to create more "Chinese miracles", state news agency Xinhua said late on Monday.

Xi stressed "military training under combat conditions to build the country's military into a world-class one and improve the country's strength in aerospace", the report added.

"Noting that technology was a core combat capability, Xi called for intensified work to make breakthroughs in core and key technologies so that China could take the initiative in international competition," the news agency said.

Xi also chatted by video conference with soldiers stationed at an island in the Paracels, in the disputed South China Sea, asking them how they were preparing to celebrate the new year, Xinhua said.

China claims a large swathe of the South China Sea and has been ramping up its military deployments there, including reclaiming land on reefs and atolls to build military infrastructure such as air bases.

Xi is expected to visit to other parts of the country before and possibly during the holiday.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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