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MILITARY OPERATIONS OTHER THAN WAR - PLA NAVY'S ROLE IN 'PEACEFUL DEVELOPMENT' OF CHINA



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China has found a near justifiable way of modernising its defence forces, particularly its Navy, by emphasizing on the importance of non-traditional roles that such forces can play. The 2008 \'White Paper on China\'s National Defence\' enunciated for the first time that China now sees Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) as an important form of applying military force. The PLA Navy has accordingly widened its scope of operations in line with this concept, to include "…integrated offshore operations in distant waters, strategic deterrence, and counterattacks…" The Central Military Commission (CMC) of China also issued the \'Military Operations Other than War Capacity Building Plan\' that provides the guidelines and measures for the accomplishment of diverse non-military tasks.

China, accordingly, has intensified its non-traditional military activities since 2008 and considers this to be the most active period for its armed forces, during which it deployed the largest scale of military force and performed various kinds of tasks with increasing regularity in peacetime. A Chinese media report quoting statistics from the PLA sources states that the Chinese military has employed more than 2.44 million servicemen, organised 7.82 million militiamen and reservists and operated more than 6,700 aircraft sorties for MOOTW since 2008. The uninterrupted anti-Piracy patrols mounted by the PLA Navy ships since December 2008 in the Gulf of Aden and off Somali coast, wherein nine task forces, each comprising three of its warships have been deployed till date for escort duties, is the most notable instance of MOOTW.

Many an international eyebrow has been raised at the rapid pace of the Chinese defence modernisation over the last decade. The US has been an active proponent in questioning the Chinese \'Peaceful Rise\', a term used for the very first time at the scenic beach resort town of Bo\'ao in the tourist paradise of Hainan in 2003. Though the Chinese have, since then, toned down the underlying alarmist connotation of \'Peaceful Rise\' to that of \'Peaceful Development\', the international community continues be concerned about the fast-paced modernisation of the People\'s Liberation Army (PLA), which is the ultimate agency to execute the peaceful development concept propagated by the Chinese leadership. The Chinese leadership and the government on the other hand, have taken great pains to convince the international community about their genuineness towards \'Peaceful Development\'. In the White Paper on Chinese \'Peaceful Development\' released on September 6, 2011, it has been mentioned that \'Peaceful Development\' is a strategic choice voluntarily exercised by China and that Beijing hoped that the world would have confidence in the sincerity of the Chinese endeavour. The Chinese State Councillor, Dai Bingguo, reiterated this very position in an open article written and released in the United Kingdom on September 25, 2011, wherein he averred that the Chinese declaration of \'Peaceful Development\' was "not merely empty talk" and he exhorted the world to welcome rather than obstruct it.

So where does the Chinese Navy fit into all this? Navies the world over, by the very nature of their operational role and additional characteristics of institutional flexibility, manoeuvrability, adaptability and reach are ideally suited to be appropriate instruments of their States\' foreign policy and its diplomatic propagation in their respective national interest. The British, in the 19th Century and till the mid 20th Century as also the US thereafter, have continually utilised their naval power in the furtherance of their respective countries\' foreign policy and achievement of their political objectives. The PLA Navy or for that matter, any Navy of consequence therefore, should be no different and may be deemed to follow the same route to achieving major power status.

It is evident that in the context of the current world order, the occasions and opportunities for using Navies in their conventional role as instruments of coercive diplomacy are few and far between. However, there are numerous opportunities for these navies to be engaged in non- traditional activities which project the benign face of the State while keeping the force well trained, equipped and operationally active, at the same time. These non-traditional tasks also help in justifying the capacity building, force modernisation, infrastructure upgrade and greater financial outlay to a certain extent. The international community in such a situation also has to grudgingly accept such justifications and feels a little out of a place in questioning the \'real motive\' for such grand force expansions. There have been many positive benefits for the PLA Navy on account of various maritime and diplomatic activities which were either associated with or complemented the presence of its ships in the Gulf of Aden. These warships have been visiting various Indian Ocean littoral countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand on goodwill visits, while transiting these waters for anti-piracy mission. The PLA Navy ships even crossed the Suez, ventured into the Mediterranean and visited ports in Egypt, Italy and Greece during August 2010. These ships, while on deployment, have regularly visited ports in Oman, UAE, Yemen and Djibouti, either for operational turnaround, rest and recreation or to evade bad weather. The frigate \'Xuzhou\' was diverted from the anti-piracy task to the Libyan coast in end February 2011 to assist in the withdrawal of Chinese citizens from the crisis struck Libya and worked in tandem with the PLA Air Force and civil aviation evacuation effort.

The PLA Navy hospital ship Peace Ark sailed for the Indian Ocean from China on August 31, 2010 on a 90-day \'Mission Harmony-2010\'. The ship operated in the Gulf of Aden for some time with the sixth task force and then called on ports in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles and Bangladesh. The ship\'s medical teams provided free health services, diagnostics and treatment to the local public and military personnel, conducted medical cooperation with local hospitals, primary schools, orphanages, nursing homes and the poor communities. This voyage of Peace Ark achieved much more international mileage for China as well as the PLA Navy in spreading its message of \'Peaceful Development\' than what mere words on White Papers and rhetorical statements from back home could do.

China having realised the immense benefit of exposing the benevolent facet of its Navy towards its larger image building exercise has again sailed the Peace Ark hospital ship on a long voyage to the Latin American countries of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rica in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship sailed on September 16, 2011 under the name of \'Mission Harmony 2011\' and is expected to return after more than 100 days at sea and cover a distance of more than 23,500 nautical miles. The PLA Navy Rear Admiral in charge of the mission stated that the aim of the current expedition following the \'Harmonious Mission 2010\' was to "strengthen the non-war operations of naval forces and perform diversified missions". He further emphasised that "the mission was of great significance in publicising the ideas of \'Harmonious World\' and \'Harmonious Ocean\', demonstrate China\'s friendly relations between the Latin American countries, and highlight the PLA\'s image as a peaceful and a civilized force. The above statement needs to be taken note of by the international community and their wider connotations require to be analysed in greater detail.

There are vital lessons to be learnt from the above Chinese approach of naval capacity building by highlighting the relevance of non-traditional role of this service, in the current global maritime environment. It is nothing new or extra-ordinary that the PLA Navy is doing and which other navies have not done before or are not doing now. However the Chinese are projecting their achievements to the world in an organised and relentless manner so as to lend credence to their \'peaceful development\' formulation.

They have in fact, institutionalised the whole process of laying \'more than required\' emphasis on even routine activities through an interesting concept known as \'Three Warfares\'. This entails the shaping of domestic and international opinion in its favour through the \'soft\' trio-instruments of media, psychological and legal warfare. The Chinese leadership in fact, exhorts its state machinery and the people to be continuously engaged in these \'three warfares\', so that the \'sought for\' objectives are met without recourse to the \'hard\' options.

Needless to say, the investment of so much national effort, resources and international relations capital can really be considered to stand China in good stead in the long run, as the PLA Navy organisation and personnel have developed strong sea legs in a multinational operating environment, gained vital lessons in inter-operability and above all, a reasonably acceptable presence in global maritime matters. It can thus be inferred that China considers this course of action as a win-win situation – one of continuing modernisation, but with a benign pretence. Whether or not the international community is convinced about these Chinese overtures, is a moot question.

(Commander Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri (kkagnihotri@maritimeindia.org) is a Research Fellow with the China Cell of the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal. This article first appeared in the November edition of the Indian Military Review.)
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