WASHINGTON: In an intriguing and potentially significant declaration, the Chinese military declares: “Regardless of what corner of the earth, so long as it is blue there we will be on guard.”
The declaration comes in an impressive recruiting video for the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). “It’s beautifully done; really tugs at the heartstrings,” says Dean Cheng, the Heritage Foundation’s respected Chinese military expert. “It’s also a piece of public opinion warfare.” The video was produced by the PLA’s General Political Department, responsible for political loyalty, psychological warfare and all related human factors.
“Is the purpose of a (Chinese) blue water navy simply to secure the sea lanes? I think it is also to defend China,” Cheng says. Why is China, traditionally a land-focused power, looking to patrol the world’s oceans, traditionally something that Western trading nations like Britain and U.S. have done to secure their economic and political interests? “China’s economic gravity has moved to the coast. so you don’t have any sort of buffer between the Chinese and the rest of the world.”
The video includes current shots of the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu by China) and bits of old combat footage from what looks like the 1950s, helping to give weight to the subtitle that declares: “No matter how much territory we have, we will not allow even one small part of our borders to be cut away.” (Cheng provided the translations.) This is clearly designed to both appeal to patriotic Chinese and to send a message to Japan and the many other Chinese neighbors that what the PRC claims as territory must be inviolate.
But the real target of the recruiting ad — like any recruiting ad– is those whom the PLAN wants to recruit. And that is the really interesting inside story here.
Cheng believes this is part of a long attempt by China to build a professional army, albeit one that still relies largely on conscripts. “What does that tell us? It tells us the Chinese are looking to support more technically oriented services,” he says, noting this has been a Chinese goal for the last 30 years.
The key to this is recruiting likely candidates for a career as a noncommissioned officer to provide the Chinese with the solid rock upon which the British, Australians and Americans have built their armies and navies, the NCO. The ad is also targeted at officer candidates who possess needed skills but who may not be thinking about a military career.
Cheng notes that the Chinese face a “fundamental problem” in building their professional conscript military. Their officers are all Communist Party members but their NCOs are not: “How does an NCO interact with an officer, when all officers are all members of the party and the NCOs aren’t.”
The video includes elements that would be right at home in an American recruiting video: a shot of a sailor at looking lovingly at a picture apparently drawn by a child. And Cheng says there is a “call to service” in the ad, which includes the declaration: “Here you can develop your talents.” And there are lots of images of high technology throughout the ad. Also, women are pictured.
There are the requisite compelling patriotic declarations: “A strong motherland must have a strong navy.” And right at the end, when sailors are pictured marching in lockstep, it says: “The Navy needs you. Together we shall accomplish the goal of the glorious revival.” That revival is a longstanding policy goal of Chinese President Xi Jinping: rebuilding a vibrant and powerful China.