23 October 2016
A PLA band performs during an official function. Non-combat reform in the Chinese military might mean the end of PLA marching bands and orchestras. Photo: China Daily
A PLA band performs during an official function. Non-combat reform in the Chinese military might mean the end of PLA marching bands and orchestras. Photo: China Daily

What happens now to PLA marching bands and national rugby team?

China this weekend overreacted and denounced a United States Department of Defense report on its military and security developments, urging the US to abandon its Cold War mentality.

“China unswervingly follows the path of peaceful development and a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and remains a staunch force in maintaining peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific and the world,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

The report, released by the Pentagon on Friday, is an annual update on China’s military reform and modernization.

For me and to most, the report was a straightforward, relatively quick read that summarizes China’s current strategy, trends and new capabilities, including what could be considered the ultimate military asset for a rising superpower: the ability to deliver nuclear warheads nearly anywhere on earth.

The 98-page document also assesses the PLA Navy’s ability to prevent a third party, such as the United States, from interfering with operations off China’s coast in a Taiwan contingency or conflict in the East or South China Sea. (Spoiler alert: The PLA Navy’s ability to perform these missions is modest at best.)

As expected, China is also focusing on counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, informationized warfare.

The report notes that reforms likely under consideration include beefing up the number of PLA Navy and PLA Air Force personnel, particularly “new-type combat forces” in aviation, cyber, and special forces.

Regretfully, reduction of non-combat positions in the PLA General Political Department’s Culture and Arts Bureau and Culture and Sports Bureau could also mean the end of PLA marching bands, orchestras and even the national rugby team.

I hope they keep the People’s Liberation Army Song and Dance Troupe, though, as their propaganda videos are a sight to behold. (Who can forget their rousing rendition of “Little Apple?”).

Besides, if they get the hook, it would put Major Gen. Peng Liyuan, also known as President Xi Jinxing’s wife, out of a job.

China’s approach to international relations of late seeks to strengthen its economy, modernize the military and solidify the CPC’s hold on power.

That said, China should see the Pentagon report as more of a tribute to real progress than anything else.

The report played up “China’s military threat” in disregard of facts and make groundless accusations of China’s defense and military building, said defense ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng in a statement.

“China’s moves to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights are justified, reasonable and legitimate and are beyond reproach,” Geng said.

The foreign ministry’s Hua added: “We urge the US to abandon its Cold War mindset, take off its colored glasses and have an objective and rational understanding of China’s military development.”

State media also decried the report.

“[The report] distorts China’s peaceful development strategies and its justified moves to uphold sovereignty in the East China Sea and South China Sea,” said People’s Daily.

“While the whole world is busy eulogizing the peace brought by the victory of World War II 70 years ago, Uncle Sam played out a disturbingly hoarse dissonance by launching a spiteful attack on China’s peace-oriented military development,” said a Xinhua op-ed.

“The US report makes willful speculations and comments on China’s military growth in defiance of the facts,” said CCTV.

A China Daily headline urged the Pentagon to “rationally” view military strength.

In an interview, Andrew S. Erickson, an associate professor at the United States Naval War College, told the New York Times: “The report indeed represents, in Chinese parlance, an effort to ‘seek truth from facts’. In an annual political ritual, Chinese state mouthpieces denounce the report — yet rarely address its substance at all, let alone disprove any specifics.”

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