PLA in the new era and Bangladesh-China defence relations
August 1, 2021 marks the 94th anniversary of founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). Over the past 94 years, China's military, which had experienced numerous battles and endured countless hardships, has dazzled its history with glorious victories and notable achievements. The PLA traces its roots to the "Nanchang Uprising" of August 1, 1927, the day the Communists led by stalwarts Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and many others rose against the nationalist forces.
It played a key role in the successful culmination of the Communist revolution in 1949. The Chinese PLA was founded and has been led by the CPC. It has been performing the CPC's ideological, organizational and political framework. The PLA is the world's largest standing army with an estimated two million service members, it protects the world's fastest-rising economic power. The priority mission of the PLA is resolutely safeguarding China's sovereignty, security and development interests, deter and resist aggression, to safeguard national political security, the people's security and social stability, oppose and contain "Taiwan independence", safeguard China's national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and security, protect China's maritime rights and interests, promote China's overseas interests, and to support the sustainable development of the country.
China's military modernization began long before Xi Jinping became chairman of the CMC in November 2012. But the pace and scope of that effort have greatly accelerated under President Xi Jinping. Key changes includes introduction of advanced weapons and equipment, structural reforms to make the PLA a more effective force and root out corruption from the Chinese society. Today China is building stronger armed forces and has changed its defensive national law in January 2021. It was approved at the session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. There are several reasons why the national defense law was amended during this time.
The Chinese nation has always advocated peace and opposed militarism. China is speeding up its defense and military modernization and make an integrated effort to build a prosperous country and a strong military, according to the draft outline of the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) for the National Economic and Social Development and the Long Range Objectives through the year 2035. The Chinese officials designated 2027 will be the Centennial anniversary of the PLA - as the year in which China will field a "Fully Modern Army".
The Chinese military has made impressive strides in the past decade. The PLA has achieved progress in key technological areas, ranging from precision-guided missiles to advance surface ships, combat aircraft and is rapidly advancing in space technology. Currently, Chinese defence strategy places great emphasis on 'integrated networked attack and defense air, sea, land, cyber and space operations. The PLA has upgraded its command, control, communications, computers and intelligence surveillance and its ability to conduct "electronic warfare". The Chinese call this "information oriented" warfare, and with it, they hope to transform the PLA into a modern, network-enabled fighting force, capable of projecting sustained power in the regions. By 2025 China in regional terms will have completed the unprecedented development into both a continental and maritime military power.
In recent years, the Chinese military has conducted exchanges and cooperation with counterparts in other countries, provided abundant international public security products, responded to common security threats and challenges, and made important contributions to maintain world peace and stability and build a community with a shared future for mankind. All these demonstrate that the PLA is committed to honoring its international responsibilities and obligations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee and also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) reaffirmed the CPC's absolute leadership over the PLA which is a "fundamental guarantee" for the army to maintain its great cohesion, creativity, and combat capabilities. The country's military is deeply rooted in its people and has made great contributions to achieving national independence as well as the liberation of the people in terms of economic development, poverty eradication, flood-fighting, rural vitalization, agricultural demonstration, village governance, educational assistance, disaster relief, medical facilitation, rural infrastructure, water supply, road communications, conduct patriotic and national defense education activities and protecting people's life and property.
Following a stronger collaboration with the civilian science and technology community, the PLA also put greater emphasis on new capabilities such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and big data. This reflects a shift to what the PLA terms "intelligentization" of the modern battlefield. The PLA is also expanding its research collaboration with universities outside China. Since 2010, the PLA has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study at foreign universities, those scientists work in strategic and emerging technology sectors such as quantum physics, signal processing, cryptography, navigation technology, autonomous vehicles, radar, explosions and supercomputers.
China's traditional reluctance to intervene has become a major contributor to UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO). China is the second-largest donor to the UNPKO fund. It has contributed more than 10 billion US dollars to the UNPKO. So far it has dispatched about 40,000 peacekeepers to 25 missions. Their peacekeepers have built and rehabilitated roads over 17,000 Kilometres and are disposed of more than 14,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Meanwhile, peacekeeping operations opened a window for the Chinese military to communicate with the outside world and enhance the understanding between different peoples. The PLA's involvement in COVID-19 relief supplies to overseas militaries has also been recognized. China already provided 3, 000, 00 doses of Coronavirus vaccines to UN Peacekeeping troops, between March 2020 and April 2021. Additionally, the PLA provided military medical assistance to 20 countries around the world.
Defence ties between Bangladesh and China are considered a major strength of our bilateral ties. Military-to-military relations are an important part of the overall bilateral relation. The countries are committed to further enhance existing defense cooperation and join hands in safeguarding regional peace and stability. Notably, China is the only country with which Bangladesh signed a defence agreement. The friendship and brotherhood between the two armed forces are strong and time-tested. And China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh. China supplied military hardware and many consignments in the 1980's free of charge or on special goodwill price. Bangladesh defence forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapon systems. The Bangladesh Navy has purchased two submarines from China in 2016 which are armed with torpedoes and mines.
This has made Bangladesh Navy a "Three Dimensional Force" which was designed by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Moreover, China provides advanced training facilities to the officers of Bangladesh Army. Both countries are striving to push the Bangladesh-China strategic cooperative partnership to a new level. Bangladesh is staunch supporter of "One China Policy" and continues to support China resolutely on issues concerning Hong Kong, Taiwan and human rights. It is worth mentioning that the PLA hospital ship "Peace Ark" has visited Chittagong port twice, respectively in 2010 and 2013 and provided free medical treatment to destitute peoples.
Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defence General Wei Fenghe paid a successful visit to Bangladesh in April, 2021. General Wei met with Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid and former Chief of General Staff General Aziz Ahmed. During the meeting, Abdul Hamid said, Bangladesh and China are time tested friends and reliable strategic partners. In return, General Wei said, China and Bangladesh have been friendly neighbours since ancient times and have a long history of bilateral ties.
He also expressed a keen desire to "jointly maintain regional peace and stability" while thwarting "alliance and hegemonic influences of external powers in South Asia". On the occasion of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence, the Chinese Defence Minister paid a rich tribute to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his birth centenary. He lauded the economic development and progress of Bangladesh achieved under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He assured China's substantial cooperation in achieving Bangladesh's Vision-2041.
The writer is a geopolitical analyst