Media officers to help PLA be 'more open and transparent'
PLA's press spokesmen to give armed forces more polished look in more complex world
Minnie Chan and Bryan Harris
The People's Liberation Army has appointed a team of eight press officers to handle media inquiries.
A article published in the PLA Daily yesterday said the move sought to make the military more open and transparent. In the past, media questions about the country's armed forces have been handled largely by staff at the Defence Ministry.
The press officers will represent the general staff department, general political department, general armament department, the People's Armed Police, the navy, the air force and the Second Artillery Corps, which controls an estimated 250 nuclear missiles.
Beijing has come under pressure, particularly from Washington, to be more open about its military development. A resolution pledging to increase the transparency of the PLA was released by the plenum of top Communist Party leaders meeting in Beijing earlier this month.
The navy is the only major department to have two spokespeople because of its complexity, with the country's territorial disputes in the East and South China seas some of the most important issues they will comment on, military observers said.
Colonel Liang Yang is the navy's first ever media spokesman, the PLA Daily said. He was the first captain of China's most advanced guided missile destroyer, the Changzhou. Earlier this year, Liang, 43, led his ship during an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. He is regarded as a rising star in the PLA. He was awarded on a United Nations peacekeeping medal and worked in Liberia as a UN military observer in 2004.
The other naval spokesperson is Senior Colonel Xing Guangmei , a maritime law expert from the PLA's Naval Military Studies Research Institute. She has commented on maritime law on state television and other media outlets.
"Colonel Xing is an international law expert with in-depth knowledge of China's territorial disputes with its neighbours in the East and South China seas," said Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie , a colleague of Xing's at the naval research institute.
"The navy appointed two spokesmen because it needs to go out and deal with other countries," Li said. "It is also involved in many professional fields, such as international law, maritime law, diplomacy, as well as other traditional and non-traditional maritime military strategies."
The plenum of party leaders also urged the PLA to tackle problems hindering efforts to make it a modern fighting force, General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, wrote in a commentary published by the People's Daily yesterday.
"[We] should make clear that there is still a certain gap between our army and the world's advanced militaries," Xu wrote, adding that the PLA would focus on strengthening its navy, air force and strategic missile forces.
He said the PLA was considering a proposal to allow members of the military with specialist skills to serve as reservists after they retire from the armed forces. The PLA is considered the world's largest army with about 2.3 million members.
The Defence Ministry set up its roster of media spokesmen in 2008 when the military was heavily involved in relief efforts following the Sichuan earthquake. The ministry holds briefings once a month.