Four Divisions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China with a total strength of about 50,000 troops and drawn from the Shenyang, Lanzhou, Jinan and Guangzhou military regions have embarked on a military exercise code-named Stride--- 2009 since August 11,2009. The exercise is due to last for two months. The exercise has been projected by the "Global Times" (August 12,2009) as China's largest ever, long-range military exercise.
2. Under this exercise, a Division of the Shenyang Military Region in the North-East will move to the Lanzhou Military Region in the North-West and a Division from the Lanzhou Region will move to the Shenyang Region. Similarly, two Divisions from the Jinan and the Guangzhou military Regions will exchange places. It is not clear from available details carried by the Government and Party controlled Chinese media whether the four Divisions will remain in their new place of deployment after the exercise or they will move back to their original place of deployment.
3. The objective of the exercise has been described as to test the ability of the Divisions to move rapidly from an area where they were raised and trained to an area to which they were not used. The objective is also to train the troops to fight anywhere, anytime and under any conditions. The exercise will also test the ability of the troops to deal with natural disasters in any part of the country. Another important aim is to test the new road, rail and air infrastructure raised by China in recent years and examine their capacity to support such large-scale movements without causing much inconvenience to the civilian population
4. The Lanzhou Military Region, one of the seven military regions of China, has under its jurisdiction Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi and the Ali area of northwest Tibet. The Shenyang Military region covers the Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongiang provinces. It plays an important role in the security of Beijing as well as of the areas bordering on the Russian Far East and North Korea. The Jinan Military region covers the Shandong and Henan provinces. It is responsible for security in one of the most heavily populated and industrialised areas of China. The Guangzhou Military region covers the Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hebei and Hainan provinces. Inter alia, it is responsible for the security of Hong Kong and its Divisions are specially trained for possible military operations against Taiwan.
5. The three Regions not participating in the exercise are the Beijing, the Nanjing and the Chengdu Military Regions. The Beijing Military Region covers Beijing city, Tianjin city, the Hebei province, the Shanxi province, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It is mainly responsible for defending China from Mongolia and Russia, and also provides security to Beijing. The Nanjing Military Region covers the Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces. It is the principal Military Region responsible for operations against Taiwan in the event of a military conflct. Most of the missile units facing Taiwan are believed to be under its control. The Chengdu Military Region covers the Chongqing, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou provinces and the Xizang/Tibet Autonomous Region. It is responsible for security in Tibet and for protecting the border regions with India, Nepal and Myanmar.
6. Thus while the Military Regions responsible for security in Tibet and Beijing and for military operations in Taiwan have not been disturbed during the exercise, the Military Region responsible for security in the recently-disturbed Xinjiang province has been. One would have thought that the Chinese would be interested in testing the capacity of the newly-laid railway line to Lhasa and the road infrastructure in Tibet to support large-scale and rapid military movements. While the non-participation of the Nanjing Military Region has been seen by Chinese commentators as a confidence-building measure at a time when Beijing's relations with Taiwan are improving, no explanation has been forthcoming for the non-participation of the Chengdu Military Region. One is tempted to speculate whether this has been motivated by a desire not to cause undue alarm in India.
7. Citing the Government-controlled Xinhua news agency, the "Global Times" reported as follows: “This is the first cross-region long-range training maneuver involving troops from four military area commands,” an anonymous (unidentified) officer at the PLA Headquarters of General Staff was quoted by Xinhua as saying. “The exercise is to test the overall combat capability and long-range mobility of our army in information-based situations,” he said. According to the plan, 80 per cent of the 50,000 troops and 60,000 weapons, equipment and vehicles will be transported to the target area by railway and motorized maneuvers. Civil passenger and cargo aircraft will be deployed for the first time to transport troops and weapons. The drill marks a huge breakthrough in the history of Chinese military training, in which the armies are crossing geographical boundaries to fight in unfamiliar areas, a military specialist in Beijing surnamed Chen told the Global Times. “The capability for greater coordination, joint operations and long-range force projection will be tested,” Chen said."
8. The paper added: "Nanjing Military Area Command, one of the seven military commands in China and covering areas close to Taiwan, was not included in the drill. Military experts interpreted the absence of Nanjing Military Command as “the mainland showing goodwill to Taiwan,” Taiwan-based newspaper China Times reported. “This is a friendly gesture from the mainland toward Taiwan and shows cross-Straits relations have further eased up,” Li Daguang, a military expert from the National Defense University told the Global Times. Unlike previous military drills, this exercise has not prompted wild speculations by military watchers."
9. It further said: "Since early May, when the PLA Headquarters of the General Staff publicized the information on the planned military drill, foreign media carried factual reports on the military drill, a change from their previous critical or speculative tone. “As the Chinese army is more and more open to the outside world, the mysteries of the army will be unveiled. And there will be fewer and fewer false reports to speculate on the threatening effect of Chinese military drills,” Li said. In addition, the drill aims to test the army’s capacity to cope with large-scale natural disasters. It is not merely for military purposes, he added."
10. China will be observing in a big way the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in October. One would have thought that in the weeks preceding this event they would not disturb four Divisions from their present areas of deployment so that they are available for any emergency if political, ethnic or religious dissidents try to create disturbances. It is a fact that the Chinese have been concerned over the possibility of such disturbances in Tibet and Xinjiang. Since April, they have strengthened preventive measures in those areas. These have been further strengthened in Xinjiang after the Urumqi disturbances in the first week of July. The fact that the Chinese are going ahead with this exercise involving four Divisions reflects their present confidence in their ability to deal with any disturbances that might break out even without the use of these Divisions.
11. The possibility that the long-term significance of this exercise may not be confined to only Chinese territory and may extend beyond its borders is evident from an editorial on the exercise carried by the "Global Times" on August 12 under the title "Build An Army That Suits Modern Requirement". The text of the editorial is annexed.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Text of the editorial carried by the "Global Times" on August 12,2009
Build an army that suits modern requirements
“In war it’s speed that counts,” the traditional Chinese military wisdom goes. The real deterrent capability of a military force isn’t based on its scale, but rather the combat force it can deliver to a strategic location at the key moment.
Now, the “Stride-2009” military drill, the first massive cross-military areas drill in the history of the People’s Liberation Army, will test the Chinese military’s long-distance deployment capability.
A large-scale exercise will be conducted by some 50,000 PLA soldiers, air force members and army aviators. The exercise will include more than 60,000 heavy military vehicles and equipment.
Throughout history, the Chinese army followed a conservative strategy of territorial defense. Long-distance deployment and strategic maneuvers capability are the weakest link in its overall strength. Overseas military deployment has also been consciously shunned by China in the past, since it was seen as representing colonialization. China was once proud of having no soldiers deployed on foreign soil.
But this conception has started to change, as the expansion of Chinese interests overseas has required that long-distance military deployment capability be strengthened. China’s national interests have increasingly grown beyond its geographic boundary.
While Chinese commodities and business are going global, the country is also relying more on foreign supplies of energy to fuel its fast economic growth. Securing strategic sea routes through which vital resources are transported is an important mission of the modern Chinese military.
Meanwhile, as a rising power expected to take more responsibility, Chinese military force needs to be commensurate with China’s growing role in the international community. It must be prepared to participate in missions such as global anti-terrorism efforts, anti-pirate strikes, and disaster-relief tasks.
Ever-complicated domestic emergencies have also demanded fast responses by the military. The rescue efforts after the Wenchuan earthquake and the snowstorm disaster in southern China last year both show the critical importance of the ability to conduct long-distance strategic maneuvers. Swift military deployment is also vital to safeguarding security along China’s borders.
Lacking such capability, the combat strength of the Chinese military and its ambition have been significantly crippled. It is reported that the Chinese military is not able to launch an overseas dispatch of a division force through sea or air and provide logistic support.
By putting long-distance deployment capability as one of the top concerns of recent drills, the Chinese army is shaking off the long-time psychological restraint on acquiring it. This ability is critical for a truly modern military and necessary for a strong power. It is also a contribution China should make to world peace.