Chinese marines’ desert operations point to long-range ambitions

(From Reuters)

Days after China passed a new law that for the first time permits its military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations, its marines began exercises in the western deserts of Xinjiang, more than 2,000 kilometers from the nearest ocean.

Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army Marine Corps at a military training base in Xinjiang

Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps hold drills at a military training base in Xinjiang

The continuing drills are an indication, analysts say, that the marines, who have traditionally trained for amphibious assault missions, are being honed into an elite force capable of deploying on land far from mainland China.

China’s limited means to respond to threats abroad were highlighted by two incidents in November: when Islamic State executed a Chinese hostage, and the killing of three executives by Islamist militants who attacked a hotel in Mali.

China’s new counter-terrorism law, passed in late December, is aimed at protecting its expanding global commercial and diplomatic interests. But China’s military commanders are also trying to create a military in the likeness of the world’s most dominant power projection force, analysts say.

“They study what the Americans have done very carefully and it’s the mirror image effect,” said Leszek Buszynski, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.

The cold weather training will improve the marines’ ability to conduct “long-distance mobilization in unfamiliar regions”, the deputy chief of staff of the Navy’s South Sea fleet Li Xiaoyan said in a Ministry of Defense statement earlier this month.

During the drills, the marines will travel 5,900 kilometers via air, truck and rail beginning in the southern province of Guangdong, the longest range maneuvers ever conducted by the force, state media said. Read More



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