Academic journal article Military Review

Compelling Reasons for the Expansion of Chinese Military Forces

Academic journal article Military Review

Compelling Reasons for the Expansion of Chinese Military Forces

Article excerpt

In March 2015, during the ongoing civil war in Yemen, the situation deteriorated as Saudi Arabia led air strikes against Houthi forces. In an unprecedented move, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy fleet withdrew from an escort mission in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to directly assist in evacuation operations in Yemen. (1) The warships managed to evacuate over 600 Chinese citizens and 279 foreign citizens, demonstrating China's growing commitment to protect its overseas assets. This marked a new milestone for the country.

China has long stood firm on its policy of noninterference. Over the past two decades, however, with global tensions heating up, China's growing global investments, and the increasing number of Chinese citizens traveling and working abroad, there has been a significant shift in actions being taken by China to assist its overseas citizens.

An opinion piece published in the East Asia Forum explained that the concept of "protecting nationals abroad" first caught the attention of China's top leadership as early as 2004. By 2012, it had become a priority of the Chinese Communist Party. According to the article, China now faces new global risks, since Chinese companies, workers, and tourists are now located all over the world. (2)

While the efforts of embassy personnel to facilitate the evacuation of Chinese nationals and foreign citizens from dangerous situations are not surprising, the more recent commitment of military resources is. These are signs of a new trend, one of increased military intervention and an extended overseas military presence in the years to come. This article provides some possible insights into China's perception of its transitioning role and what we might expect in the future based on its involvement in overseas evacuations over the past several decades.

Evolution of China's Commitment to Overseas Citizens and Assets

Since Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms opened up China to the rest of the world nearly four decades ago, an increasing number of Chinese citizens have been traveling abroad. Each year their numbers climb. In 1978, approximately two hundred thousand Chinese citizens traveled overseas. By 2003, that number increased one hundred times to 20.2 million. (3) In 2014, over one hundred million Chinese citizens had traveled abroad. (4)

There has also been a marked increase in the number of Chinese working abroad. By the end of 2006 an estimated 675,000 Chinese worked overseas, mostly in developing countries. That same year, more than ten thousand Chinese enterprises had set up businesses in over two hundred countries and regions. (5) By 2012, there were more than five million Chinese nationals working abroad. (6) They can be found in both developed and developing countries.

The growing number of Chinese citizens working overseas can be attributed to a number of factors. For example, China's saturated domestic markets and inadequate access to domestic resources have prompted companies to operate in other countries. The nonrenewable nature of petroleum, coupled with China's current and forecasted requirements, has scattered the country's oil companies across the globe in search of energy.

Oftentimes, Chinese companies have sought opportunities in some of the more volatile, less desirable regions of the world, attracted by decreased competition and easier access. Potential competitors often avoid doing business in certain locations for a variety of reasons, ranging from legalistic (i.e., sanctioned countries) to moralistic (i.e., countries accused of gross corruption, genocide, or other atrocities). However, China's business policy makes it an ideal partner for such countries. While China willingly renders aid to corrupt and problematic countries with no questions asked, Western organizations demand transparency and accountability.

China's growing involvement in unstable countries increases its need to protect its assets and citizens. …

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