PLA’s SOF Capabilities, Increased Maritime Security, & U.S.-China Joint Military Exercises

Publication: China Brief Volume: 6 Issue: 19


The PLA’s official military newspaper, the Jiefangjun Bao, published an editorial by Peng Xiaolong and Wu Wenjun that called for China to enhance its ability to conduct special operations (Jiefangjun Bao, September 14). Arguing that special forces “fit the bill” for China’s needs of an informatized military that was “elite, agile, rapid and highly efficient,” the authors stated that China needed the ability to conduct operations similar to those found in the U.S. movie, “Home Alone.” Peng and Wu pointed out that in future operations, China should be like the “smart and courageous little kid [who] defeated big villains.” The two authors continued by citing the examples of how special forces were critical in U.S. operations to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Without special forces they argue, the U.S. military would have suffered incalculable casualties in their initial march to Baghdad. The authors’ recommendations follow a long trend of military and strategic publications, most notably PLA doctrinal textbook Zhanyixue [The Science of Campaigns], that have called for China to develop asymmetric warfare capabilities. In these articles, China consistently identifies itself as the weaker party that is up against a significantly more powerful and technologically advanced opponents, quite clearly referencing the United States and its regional allies, and must depend upon asymmetric tactics to overcome its superior opponent.


In an interview with Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong-daily owned by Beijing, Major General Pang Guangqian, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, cited the need for China to enhance its maritime security (Ta Kung Pao, September 15). Given its geostrategic location at the center of the maritime region of East Asia, General Pang argued that China’s maritime security was subject to the whims of “big powers,” a common Chinese euphemism for the United States and its regional allies. These countries seek to benefit from the “peaceful development” and economic expansion of China and seek to prevent China from emerging as a strong country and the “Lion in the East.” General Pang’s identification of maritime security as an outstanding issue is not an unusual occurrence. Over the years, as China has become increasingly dependent on sea lines of communication (SLOC) for trade and especially for energy imports, a growing number of PLA/PLAN strategists have called upon Beijing to devote additional resources to the modernization and expansion of its navy.


On September 6, the United States conducted its first joint military exercise with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). An advanced PLA Navy (PLAN) missile destroyer and supply ship arrived in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it conducted non-traditional security operations such as fleet movement communications and joint search and rescue operations. Following its exercises in Hawaii, the Chinese fleet headed to the coast of California where, on September 9, it conducted additional search and rescue exercises. Following the conclusion of both operations, PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang praised the exercises as a positive step forward and stated that “China is ready to step up exchanges between the two armed forces” (Xinhua, September 14). When questioned over the issue of establishing military hotlines, however, Gang remained hesitant, answering, “In principle, the Chinese side would like to maintain dialogue and contact with the U.S. side. Whether or not hotlines should be used as the specific means of communication needs to be thought over.” In the past, Beijing has been opposed to the establishment of hotlines, particularly ones between its Central Military Commission and the Pentagon, fearing that they would be unable to monitor all communications during times of crisis (China Brief, September 6). While Washington has likewise been eager in recent months to reestablish military relations with Beijing, a number of officials have been privately grumbling over the lack of reciprocal transparency by the Chinese.