China focuses more on “flexible” military diplomacy

Source:China Military Editor:Zhang Tao 2017-04-26

The honor guards of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) participate in the Pakistani National Day parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2017, local time. (Photo by Dongfang IC)

"The great powers have their own responsibilities. The relationship between China and neighboring countries needs to develop in a way beneficial to regional security and the development of neighboring countries. The ultimate goal is to achieve win-win cooperation and to carry out the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.”

BEIJING, April 26 (ChinaMil) -- During the National Day Parade in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 23 this year, the 90-people formation of the honor guard of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) chanted loudly in Urdu: "Long live China-Pakistan friendship!" This was the first time that Chinese military participates in the Pakistani parade. Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Chang Wanquan visited Sri Lanka and Nepal from March 19 to 25. Chang is also the first Chinese defense minister who visited Nepal in the past 15 years.

The Prime Minister of Nepal went to China very soon after he greeted Chinese guests at home. After meeting with Chang on March 23, Prachanda, Prime Minister of Nepal, flew to China on the same day to pay his first visit to China in the 9 months of his term of office, which was going to an end.

A year ago, Khadga Prasad Oli, the former Prime Minister of Nepal, also visited China in March. Many Indian media paid a lot of attention to the visit.

"India regards South Asia as its backyard and treats the countries in South Asia as its subsidiaries and protection," said Hu Zhiyong, vice president and secretary-general of Central and South Asia Security Council.

"There is no doubt of the increasing importance of South Asia in China's diplomatic plan. We do not support regional hegemony, but respect India's regional influence. We cannot fall into India's zero-sum game,” said Sun Shihai, honorary director of the India Institute of China (Kunming) South Asia and Southeast Asia Research Institute.

“China needs to increase strategic and political mutual trust with India, achieve mutual understanding and respect on matters regarding the two sides' core interests and major concerns through mechanisms like strategic communication and promote new international relations featuring win-win cooperation in South Asia," Sun Shihai added.

Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South Asia of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, thinks that the confidence of national interests comes from the strong backup of military cooperation.

More and more friends

Nepal, located at the south of the Himalayas, is an inland country far away from the sea. It is landlocked by India on three sides and borders China in the north.

This means when Nepal develops foreign relations, it has to take India into account. "The relationship between China and Nepal appears to be just about the two countries, but it actually reflects the relationship between China and India," Hu pointed out.

When China and Nepal established diplomatic relations in 1955, the ambassador to Nepal was the same ambassador to India and there was no embassy of China in Nepal, indicating the role India played in China-Nepal relations.

Therefore, military cooperation between China and Nepal opened new diplomatic opportunities.

A formation of type-05 wheeled armored vehicles bearing the English mark of United Nations peacekeeping forces were driven into Kathmandu one by one in January this year. Then, armored vehicles recently given by China were on display in the Nepal Army Day parade held in Kathmandu on February 25.

"Will India block Nepal again because of the military cooperation between China and Nepal?" asked Hu.

So far, India has imposed blockade on Nepal for three times with the intent of forcing Nepal to change its domestic policy. In September 2015, the Indian Madheshi people broke out in conflict due to their discontent at the administrative boundary decided by the new constitution, causing India to impose an unofficial 4-month blockade on Nepal.

The lack of oil and natural gas lead to a fuel crisis to the extent that China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines had to cancel their flights to Kathmandu because the international airport of Nepal could not provide fuel for foreign carriers.

"India tries to control Nepal on everything. When Nepal was in dire need of help after the earthquake, India imposed its sanctions, which made Nepalese people see what a bully India is," reported by Nepali Republica after the end of blockade.

Hu observed that this blockade made Nepalese people realize that they should not be limited by India and they needed to find more options for their survival.

"The biggest difference between China's current strategy and the one of 10 years ago is that Beijing used to only deal with the King," dailyo of India commented," Now they deal with all political parties and leaders, even with the small roles. "

China and India are building awareness of cooperation on border issues. "Trilateral cooperation helps eliminate misunderstanding easier than bilateral cooperation, which always makes the third country feel it's been targeted." Hu pointed out that China, India and Nepal can totally engage in military cooperation, especially in areas like common and non-traditional threats.

Pragmatic cooperation with foreign countries

"The participation of the Chinese military is a 'historic event',” said Pakistani President on March 23. In addition, Turkish and Saudi troops were also in the parade.

Early in 2015, Pakistan once sent a formation of 83 people to participate in China’s "9•3" parade. "Pakistan took the first step, so we should also join their parade," said Hu.

"The military diplomacy between China and Pakistan has been quite comprehensive," Hu pointed out. Among which, anti-terrorism was the most prominent achievement, with an ever increasing China-Pakistan anti-terrorism cooperation.

"The cooperation covered not only simple drills, but also joint military operations on the border," Hu said.

The participation of the Chinese military showed China's focus on the security of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, reported by Reuters. Gwadar Port is the southern end of the corridor and there are rampant terrorist activities in Balochistan, where Gwadar Port is located.

"The development of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should take into account the interests of all parties in Pakistan. The support of the central government as well as the respect for local government and public demands are equally important. If local interests are ignored, it's hard to keep the corridor safe," said Sun Shihai.

"The military cooperation between China and Pakistan is conducive to the peace and stability of South Asian areas. We need to carry out military partnership with South Asia countries comprehensively,” Sun added.

Similar to Pakistan and Nepal, the military parade in Sri Lanka was also a showcase for achievements of China-Sri Lanka military diplomacy.

Sri Lanka celebrated the 66th anniversary of its Air Force on March 4 this year. A lot of China-made fighters made debut in the parade. Sri Lanka used to be the first foreign user of China’s Y-8 and Y-12 aircraft.

"Military is the barometer of strategic mutual trust. Usually it follows politics. However, in war-torn places, sometimes military takes the lead and eventually elevates political relationships, which was the case for China-Sri Lanka relations," said Hu. "The economic and trade cooperation with South Asian countries must have the purpose of establishing a community of shared interests and should make those countries feel that China is seeking a win-win cooperation,” said Sun.

“As China increases its strategic interests along the Indian Ocean and in Sri Lanka, it should promote military cooperation with all countries along the Indian Ocean and should achieve mutual understanding and mutual trust through all kinds of cooperation mechanisms. This is to ensure a safe environment for China in Indian Ocean Rim regions," said Sun.

Peace, cooperation and win-win

Chinese military diplomacy has made great breakthroughs over the past six months. In Nepal, step by step, Chinese military diplomacy was filling the blanks in history. After the "4•25" Nepal earthquake in 2015, Chinese armed police traffic force was invited to Nepal for the first time for clearing operations on the China-Nepal Highway.

"Nepal will hold joint military exercises with China for the first time."A reporter asked Wu Qian, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense (MND), on March 30 that “why wasn’t the China-Nepal joint military exercise held as scheduled in February. During Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang’s visit, the two sides did not finalize the specific time for the exercise. Is there any obstacle in the mil-to-mil exchanges between China and Nepal?"

Wu Qian said, “The two sides have planned to hold joint military counter-terrorism training in the first half of this year and both sides are still having consultation on related matters.”

"We achieved a breakthrough from scratch," Hu Zhiyong said. He thinks that the first military exercise between China and Nepal is only at the initial stage, but the establishment of the mechanism is conducive to normalizing such drills between China and Nepal.

Sun Shihai said that we must firmly develop a mutually beneficial relationship with Nepal, but at the same time, we also need to establish political and military trust with India.

A quadrilateral cooperation and coordination mechanism in counter terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Tajikistan Armed Forces was issued in August, 2016. For China, this is the first multilateral security cooperation mechanism with its neighboring countries.

"In this mechanism, the weakest link lies in Afghanistan and Tajikistan because they lack effective border control capability. The mechanism is another practice of joint law enforcement after Mekong River joint patrol," said Hu Shisheng.

In October 2016, President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh. This is the first time that Chinese president visits Bangladesh in the past 30 years. China also became Bangladesh's first strategic partner.

Hu Shisheng suggested that China can also work with Bangladesh to conduct joint drills in the Bay of Bengal. Hu also said that if India and Myanmar are interested, we can host maritime safety cooperation and military exercises involving three or four parties.

"Multilateral cooperation is conducive to increasing mutual trust and to easing mutual suspicion," said Sun Shihai.

"China wants peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. China needs to establish cooperation mechanisms including joint patrol with India, the US and other countries to prevent conflicts, and increase mutual trust in order to work together to establish an open, transparent, equal and inclusive security and cooperation framework in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Rim regions," Sun Shihai said.

“Given the tense military relations between India and Pakistan, how this particular participation will promote regional peace and stability?” A reporter asked a question on the participation of the PLA contingent in Pakistani National Day parade at a regular press conference of the MND on March 30,

Wu Qian said, “We will always be a staunch force for maintaining world peace and regional stability. The Chinese military actively fulfills its international obligation by conducting regular naval escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, conducting joint anti-piracy training with navies of Pakistan and other countries, and coordinating with the India and other independent escort countries over the schedule of the escort ships in an effort to jointly safeguard the security of international waterways. And in regional counter-terrorism, China has conducted multiple joint exercises covering counter-terrorism with Pakistan, India and other countries.”

"China's military diplomacy should be based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation to expand cooperation and control differences at the same time," said Sun Shihai.

"The great powers have their own responsibilities. The relationship between China and neighboring countries needs to develop in a way beneficial to regional security and the development of neighboring countries. The ultimate goal is to achieve win-win cooperation and to carry out the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness,” Sun Shihai stressed.

Disclaimer: The author is Zheng Yujun, reporter from Southern Weekend. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.