China military beefs up transparency with cyber and real efforts

Source:Global Times Published: 2009-8-21 9:38:05

Few know where the headquarters of the Chinese military is, whereas almost everyone with the least global perspective has heard of the Pentagon in Washington, D. C..

The People's Liberation Army (PLA), with its head office in Bayi Building to the west of Chang'an Avenue in Beijing, increased its profile to the world Thursday by, among other efforts, opening the first official website, which offers a panoramic view on the Chinese armed forces.

The Ministry of National Defense (MOD) website, in both Chinese and English, popped up Thursday morning, topped with the national emblem of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Great Wall, which refers to solid defensive capability of the PLA, which was founded on Aug. 1, 1927. In the Chinese language, Aug. 1 sounds Bayi.

In the heat of going to cyberspace -- almost all Chinese ministries have opened official web portals -- the MOD long remained low-key and mysterious.

The Chinese armed forces, including the PLA and the People's Armed Police Force (PAPF), are commanded by the Central Military Commission chaired by President Hu Jintao.

The MOD was established in 1954 in line with the Constitution, and has long been used in part to host diplomatic receptions and meetings.

As one key drive to get itself across, the MOD publicizes defense policy, military news, operations, equipment, diplomacy, arms control and defense technology.

Logging on to the website, Internet surfers can read resumes of China's military leadership, including President Hu and his top aides as well as all major senior officers of the PLA's four branch headquarters.

Senior Colonel Gong Fangbin, who teaches at the PLA's Defense University, said, "The launch of the MOD website reflects a transformative idea that all the state power should be exercised in sunshine."

China's growing military expenditure has raised foreign concerns.

Anyone who are interested would easily find defense expenditure, structure of the armed forces, defense strategies and, most importantly, national defense intention, which is summarized on the website as "China pursues a national defense policy which is purely defensive in nature."

The website's opening coincided with a high-profile meeting between Gen. Chen Bingde, PLA chief of the General Staff, and U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey.

Gen. Casey was only one of the international ranking officers who had been invited into the Bayi Building. The PLA Second Artillery, or the country's strategic nuclear forces, even allowed then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2005 into its command and control center in Beijing.

On April 23, the PLA Navy showcased the country's nuclear-powered submarines in front of the world media in an international fleet review for the first time.

In the months leading to the 60th anniversary of founding of the PRC on Oct. 1, the PLA invited hundreds of domestic and overseas journalists to interview officers and soldiers at an army garrison in suburban Beijing.

Chinese military experts predicted that sophisticated weapons would be on show at the scheduled National Day parade on Oct. 1 in Beijing.

The Defense Ministry has also stepped up to meet more media organizations at home and abroad after its first spokesman Senior Colonel Hu Changming made his debut soon after the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake in May 2008.

According to the MOD's spokesmen office, the ministry is considering holding regular press conferences just like other ministries such as education and foreign affairs.

Dr. Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Washington, D. C.-based think tank Brookings Institution, said, "The opening of the website will be a positive step, if it is forthright with facts.

"China is now a world power in its political and military capabilities, but its previous lack of transparency has not reflected that," Dr. Singer, who also heads the Brookings 21st Century Defense Initiative, responded to a Xinhua email interview.

Dr. Singer said that the air of mystery that surrounds basic areas of Chinese military affairs, such as the budget or acquisitions, which most other nations in the world openly reveal, has helped feed misperceptions.

"So I think this entry into the 21st century world of technology and public affairs is a good step not only for China, but also its relations with other nations," Dr. Singer said.

China is now more willing than ever to share the responsibility of UN-authorized security and humanitarian missions, with the latest example of dispatching naval vessels to guard merchant ships through waters off Somalia from rampant piracy.

Senior Colonel Gong said, "What the MOD is showing is what the military really conducts, there is no reason for the government to conceal the facts and activities that were previously tagged with national secrets.

"I believe more would be declassified and international visitors could know more about the Chinese military online," Gong said.

Posted in: Military

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