Beijing: China allowed foreign reporters a rare glimpse inside an army base on Tuesday, part of a charm offensive apparently aimed at countering foreign fears over the nation’s military build-up.
The People’s Liberation Army’s Third Guard Division gave journalists a tour of their living and dining quarters and a display of marksmanship and artillery firepower at their base, about an hour’s drive north of Beijing.
“I am confident this will give you more exposure to China, the PLA, and our men and women in uniform and a good understanding of our sincerity, hospitality, openness and friendship,” said Senior Colonel Leng Jiesong.
Visits by foreign journalists to Chinese military facilities are rare.
China has roughly doubled its military budget since 2006, according to official government figures that some overseas analysts say vastly downplay what Beijing actually spends.
The build-up has prompted concern overseas about China’s military ambitions and transparency, but Tuesday’s base visit was the latest in a series of moves that state media has said are aimed at countering such worries.
They include the appointment of the defence ministry’s first-ever spokesman last year, as well as plans, revealed last week by state media, for a bilingual ministry website to be launched August 1, the PLA’s 82nd anniversary.
“This event shows we are taking a major step forward in the process of opening up to the outside world,” Leng told reporters.
“China is more and more open to the outside world, and so is the PLA. We are actively speeding up this process, and it is the same with our transparency.”
China has argued recently that much of its new military spending has gone into better food and medical supplies for its 2.3 million servicemen and women.
After welcoming journalists with a goose-stepping honour guard and military band, the visitors were brought to a barracks kitchen.
Inside, soldiers cooked Chinese fried pancakes and displayed a range of meat, vegetable and other dishes that officers said were typical barracks fare while a chef butchered a four-foot side of pork.
Due to its proximity to Beijing, one of the unit’s main duties is the defence of the capital, including providing security during the October 1 National Day parade and other activities marking the 60th anniversary of Communist China’s founding.
Soldiers displayed their fighting prowess with a retinue of hand-to-hand combat moves punctuated by battle cries and showed off their rifle skills and bullet-riddled paper targets as Chinese reporters clapped.
Later, soldiers conducted a dramatic drill in which an anti-terror squad stormed a three-storey building to subdue a group of simulated “terrorists”.
Soldiers shimmied up the side of the building while others rappelled to the top as explosives went off around them.
As concerns have mounted over why China needs a high-tech military, the government has increasingly stressed the need for counter-terrorism forces.
The Pentagon in recent years has raised concerns about China’s development of cruise and ballistic missiles, its 2007 test of a satellite-striking weapon, an apparent rise in cyber-espionage by China’s military, and other issues.