Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed his nation “loves peace” but will never compromise defending its sovereignty in the pursuit of it during a speech he gave at the 90th anniversary celebration of the People’s Liberation Army.

While most nations use a definition of sovereignty that extends to its formal and recognized borders, however, China has expanded its territorial claims in recent years to encompass the vast majority of both the East and South China Seas, the latter of which is among the most heavily commercially trafficked waterways on the face of the planet.  China’s claims over these bodies of water are contested by a number of nearby nations, and the United States has repeatedly violated what China considers their sovereign territory with freedom of navigation, or FONOP, operations conducted by naval vessels and aircraft.

“The Chinese people love peace. We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions,” Xi said in a statement broadcast live on state television.

We will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form,” he said. “No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests.”

China has been developing and militarizing artificial islands in the region, as well as placing military assets on naturally existing island masses, despite overlapping claims of ownership placed by nations like the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.  His statements could also be meant to address deteriorating relations with Taiwan specifically.  Xi and his party consider Taiwan to be a wayward province, and he has indicated in the past that military force may be an option in order to bring it back under Beijing’s control.

In an effort to counter the growing opposition to China’s grand claims, the nation’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, is currently undergoing a vast reorganization effort intended to bring its command structure and procedures into the twenty-first century.  President Xi also seemed to address the potential for confusion within his armed forces as a result of the new organizational methodology, as it has placed military assets under the command of new, or different, branches of the government than the previous system would allow.  The focus, according to Xi, must be on loyalty to the nation’s Communist Party.

“To build a strong military, [we] must unswervingly adhere to the Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces, and make sure that the people’s army always follow the Party,” Xi said, referring to the nation’s Communist Party.

“Our principle is that the party commands the guns, and the guns must never be allowed to command the party.”