China Offers Rare Glimpse of its Army

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In a rare show of transparency, the People's Liberation Army of China invited some 90 foreign journalists for a sneak peak at a base just north of Beijing.

China's army has 2.3 million members and has practiced a number of military maneuvers, including anti-terrorism commandoes storming a three-story building, soldiers conducting hand-to-hand combat, and a display of artillery firepower.

They even allowed the press to interview a few of the soldiers as the world's largest military is showing signs of openness.

"I think it is really cool," Sun Yu, a People's Liberation Army Soldier, said. "Being in the army is like being in school. I can develop as a person, I can learn a lot of skills - both military and civilian. I really like being a soldier."

The government said the open house is an attempt to calm foreign fears over China's military build-up.

"China has a responsibility and a duty to participate in the global community," PLA Commander Leng Jiesong said. "And so our military is also developing and training to interact with the outside world more."

But some analysts insist that China has to do more.

"They are showing us things that really don't matter," China expert Gordon Chang said. "The United States, over the course of many years, has tried to increase military-to-military ties. We show them everything, we tell them a lot about the way our military operates. They've been very reluctant to tell us anything."

The two countries have agreed this week to resume military contacts in an effort to strengthen those ties. But China has long been secretive about its military strength and capacity, while continuing to spend billions of dollars on defense.

"The Chinese believe in secrecy," Chang said. "Part of it is because, they believe that their military, of course, is much weaker than ours. They don't want us to know exactly what's going on."
 
The People's Liberation Army will celebrate its 82nd anniversary this weekend. And as part of its image-makeover, the Ministry of Defense will launch its first official Web site. 

Still, there are concerns in Washington, and among China's neighbors, about the country's growing military clout.

In recent months, Chinese boats have confronted U.S ships in international waters near the Chinese coast. And late last year, Chinese warships tested their capabilities off the coast of Somalia with anti-piracy patrols.

"The only message that we can take from these around the world visits are that they intend to plant the flag," Chang added. "Not only in the waters around China, but also around the world."

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