China’s military to hold open days at barracks – but only for Chinese

PLA will give public a glimpse behind the scenes during national holidays, according to new directive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 1:45pm

The People’s Liberation Army will give the public a glimpse behind the scenes of the world’s largest military force in the latest bid to improve its image.

Some PLA barracks are to hold open days during national holidays, giving the public a taste of army training and weapons, according to a new directive that took effect at the end of last month but was announced by the Central Military Commission (CMC) on Thursday.

But only Chinese citizens will be allowed – no foreigners will be given access unless they have special permission, the directive said.

And only certain barracks approved by the CMC will be open to the public. Anyone who wants to attend an open day will have to apply and undergo strict security checks before and after the visit.

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With some 2.3 million troops, China has the world’s biggest army, but its military sites have long been off limits to the public.

Only recently, in 2013, did people in Guangzhou and Shanghai get the chance to tour the cities’ military barracks for the first time.

But in Hong Kong and Macau, the PLA has regularly opened its garrisons to the public since their handovers to China, in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

Beijing also sent the country’s first aircraft carrier to Hong Kong in July in a bid to engage the public – and demonstrate its military might – in a five-day port call to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover. More than 4,000 Hongkongers boarded the aircraft carrier while another 40,000 visited two destroyers and a frigate docked at the naval base on Stonecutters Island.

The latest public relations effort could see the Liaoning, and the PLA Navy’s most advanced guided-missile destroyer, open for tours by mainland Chinese.

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Ni Lexiong, a military expert based in Shanghai, said the PLA’s decision to hold open days was in line with international practices.

“It is common in countries with a modern military to open their barracks to the public from time to time, and this move could help to close the gap between the military and the people,” Ni said.

He added that by opening its doors to the public, the PLA could also show off the progress it has made, which could boost public confidence and improve the army’s image.

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President Xi Jinping introduced a string of military reforms to address corruption and poor morale and to turn it into a modern fighting force soon after he took the helm in late 2012.

To shake things up and restore morale, Xi launched a crackdown on corruption in the PLA and embarked on an unprecedented overhaul of its structure. The graft crackdown, which brought down former CMC vice-chairmen Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou and numerous followers, was supported by the public and many army heavyweights because they were seen as the tip of a military corruption iceberg.