China's secretive military cracks open door for glimpse inside

Tue Jul 22, 2014 4:58am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - With dancing robots and smiling soldiers and to the strains of British singer George Michael, China cracked open the door on its secretive armed forces on Tuesday during Beijing's annual attempt to assuage worries about its growing military might.

China has jangled regional nerves over the past few months with an increasing assertiveness over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, set against the backdrop of rising defense spending.

But on a yearly trip for foreign reporters to a Chinese military base, this time to an engineering academy in Beijing's southwestern suburbs, officers went to great lengths to put a non-threatening face on the world's largest military.

"It is not necessary to pick an enemy or an opponent for combat while developing ones military. I think the People's Liberation Army's development is in line with China's overall development," base commander Xu Hang told reporters.

During a carefully escorted tour of the leafy base, soldiers stopped to chat and patiently answer questions about everything from their salary to why they wanted to join up.

At one point a group of cadets proudly showed off miniature dancing robots they had designed, as piped Western pop music played in the background, including a musak-version of George Michael's "Careless Whisper".

"When I was small I wanted really badly to be a soldier," said a beaming Liao Guofeng, 26. "In China soldiers get respect and now my dream has come true."

The base, though, exists for a more serious purpose -- to train up and coming officers for leadership with a specific focus on tanks.   Continued...

Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) work at a digital electronic laboratory during an organised media tour at a PLA engineering academy in Beijing July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic