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The PLA on Diplomatic Front in 2009

Prashant Kumar Singh is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • January 06, 2010

    Two military events – the National Day Parade on October 1, 2009 celebrating the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China and Chinese navy sending its task forces on an escort mission to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast – signify the evolving nature of the PLA’s diplomacy. These events have appended new chapters to China’s international profile-building which has already been receiving approbation of the international community for weathering the global recession. Besides, they testify to the broad framework of military diplomacy of China

    Both events are fine examples of China’s military diplomacy which characteristically works in conjunction with the larger national diplomacy. The crux of China’s military diplomacy has been to provide national diplomacy with necessary confidence. The year 2009 saw Chinese military diplomacy becoming a diplomacy behooving of a big power.

    The National Day Parade takes place in China every ten years. But what makes the 2009 parade different is that it was held against the backdrop of the global recession. China sits on the top of the list of those very few countries which have only modestly been affected by the economic recession. One line of argument being aired is that its outstanding economic performance has given an opportunity to and infused confidence in China to look for an enhanced role in the international order. Realizing this, the PLA subtly used its National Day Parade, 2009 to convey that it is well capable of defending its national territory and ready to perform great power responsibilities. The display of the massive and cutting-edge firepower at the disposal of the PLA combined with very confident statements from military and political leadership served this purpose very well.

    The participation of the PLA Navy in escort missions in foreign waters is a radical departure from the historical point of view because this is the first time that the PLA Navy is carrying out such tasks not in national waters. So far, the PLA Navy has sent four taskforces and 11 warships to the piracy-affected region where they have spent 10,000 navigation hours and taken a voyage of 100,000 nautical miles. They have escorted 1,000 merchant ships of over 100 batches.1

    The National Day Parade, 2009 and the PLA Navy’s escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast not only tell about China’s capability projection but they also tell about China’s eagerness to be known as an open, transparent and cooperative military power. The Parade was very well attended by foreign observers and extensively reported by the media. The PLA Navy’s taskforces in this piracy-hit region have ushered China in the new era of cooperation in non-traditional security field. The basic purpose of the military diplomacy remains to project capabilities yet woo friends by allaying fears about China’s rise.

    According to Huang Xueping, Spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), mutual military visits, high-level contact, defence consultations, the improved overall arrangement of military diplomacy, constant breakthroughs in the Sino-foreign joint military exercise and military trainings in the areas of security and defence, peacekeeping, medical support and ship escort, multi-lateral military diplomatic activities in view of sending peace-loving, open and ready for cooperation image of the PLA and special focus on cooperation in non-traditional security area define the framework of Chinese military diplomacy. In this context, he specially refers to the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of People’s Republic of China and escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali Coast.2

    Today, both the PRC and the international community are equally eager to know each other. Hundreds of high-level official visits from dozens of countries took place in 2009. The flow of traffic of high military officials and leaders from across the world towards Beijing is so high that it is difficult and tedious to track it. There is hardly any day in a week when some foreign military delegation is not landing in Beijing. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that since the launch of the website of the Ministry of National Defence of the PRC in August, 2009, a single day’s hits exceeded 130 million and the number of hacker attacks was 2.3 million in the first month of the website’s formal operation.3 This speaks volumes of the world’s growing interest in China and its military. China, has built military relations with 150 countries and has 109 military attaché offices. Its army has built defence and security consultation mechanisms with 22 countries. The Chinese Defence Ministry has opened direct telephone line with several of its foreign counterparts.4

    Once a sceptic of the UN and its peacekeeping forces and missions, China is now playing a significant role in international peacekeeping. According to data cited by Xiao Shizong, a research fellow from the PLA Academy of Military Sciences and editor-in-chief of the Foreign Military Review, by November 21, 2009, China had sent a total 14,650 peacekeeping officers and other personnel to participate in 18 UN peacekeeping operations. According to him, currently, 1,956 officers and men are implementing peacekeeping tasks in nine UN mission areas and UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.5

    Finally, China’s military diplomacy in 2009 continued along the parameters set in previous years by the larger national diplomatic goals and emerged more confident and with a relatively more open posture. The National Day Parade, 2009 and China’s four task forces testify to this.