Exhibition of military secrets not for foreign eyes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2001, 12:00am

PLA tanks and armoured personnel carriers have been deployed in the centre of Guangzhou. But unlike the 50th anniversary National Day parade held in Beijing on October 1, 1999, the PLA Military Weapons Exhibition is a decidedly low-key affair.

The exhibition, reportedly the first of its kind held in Guangdong, opened quietly over the Lunar New Year holiday at Guangzhou's Tianhe Athletic Centre.

On display are more than 1,000 items of military hardware including tanks, personnel carriers, missiles and fighter jets.

Only a small advertisement in the Guangzhou Daily brought the exhibition, which is scheduled to run until March 23, to the public's attention. And foreigners need not attend.

'I'm not sure why [foreigners cannot attend],' a soldier said. 'But I think it's because there are state secrets here.'

Through two entrance gates, a main battlefield tank and two Long March missiles are evident. And sticking up past the enclosure's southern wall is the tail-fin of what appears to be a Chinese-made Jian-6 or Jian-7 fighter plane.

Two local newspapers have also published front-page pictures of some of the equipment on display, accompanied by brief captions.

Only one newspaper, the New Evening Express, has run a small story on the exhibition, after two of its journalists were dispatched to 'scout out the military's movements'.

According to the New Evening Express, the military hardware left the western Guangdong port city of Zhanjiang on January 12.

It was loaded on to about 70 modified military flatbed transport trucks, and escorted by personnel from the Zhanjiang military area and the South Sea Naval Fleet.

Travelling only at night along tightly guarded routes, it took two weeks for the military transports to complete the 600km trip to Guangzhou.

The exhibition is being guarded by about 100 military personnel and a special detachment of local Public Security officers.

Besides shooing away the odd pesky foreigner, their main task appears to be that of ensuring that children do not climb on the state secrets on display in the venue.

The ban on foreign visitors is ironic. Officially, the exhibition is sponsored by the PLA's General Armament Department, the Communist Youth League, and the Zhanjiang-based Pengda bottling company, whose flagship brand is Snail Spring Mineral Water.

But for the exhibition's first few days, that enduring symbol of US capitalist and cultural hegemony - McDonald's - also got a look-in.

'McDonald's wishes the PLA Military Weapons Exhibition every success!' read one banner.

McDonald's officials said yesterday they were unaware of the banner and would ask for it be removed.

Even more curious is the fact that some of the items on display were originally paid for by foreign taxpayers. These include a US Navy cruise missile, a US Air Force 'smart' bomb, and an American JDAM missile. It is not clear how the PLA got their hands on them.

It was a JDAM missile that destroyed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and killed three people in May 1999 - a fact not mentioned at the exhibition.