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More than 100 horses have arrived in Wuhan for the equestrian and modern pentathlon events of the Military World Games, which begin on Friday. Photo: Handout

Xi Jinping to open Military World Games in China as PLA goes on charm offensive

  • Soldiers from 140 countries are expected to take part in 10-day sporting event in Wuhan, Hubei province
  • It coincides with the Xiangshan Forum, where Beijing may seek to reinforce its position on issues like the South China Sea and US arms sales to Taiwan
President Xi Jinping is expected to open the Military World Games in central China on Friday, setting the stage for a People’s Liberation Army charm offensive as it seeks to strengthen ties with foreign forces and exert its influence.

China is hosting the 10-day sporting event in Wuhan, Hubei province, and soldiers from 140 countries are expected to take part. It will coincide with the three-day Xiangshan Forum – China’s equivalent of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – to be held on the outskirts of Beijing from Sunday.

It comes after China staged a lavish military parade in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1, showcasing some of the PLA’s most advanced weapon systems and strategic weaponry.

A Chinese military insider on Tuesday said Xi was expected to kick off the games in Wuhan – a symbolic move by the president as he seeks to boost the PLA’s international profile.

China has built a new athletes’ village in Wuhan that can accommodate 10,000 people. Photo: Handout

“[China sees] the Military World Games as a platform to promote international military diplomacy and an opportunity for the PLA to build its international image through sporting events,” the insider said.

It will be the first time China hosts the Military World Games, which is the second-biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics and is also held every four years.

To host the mega event, China has built a new athletes’ village in Wuhan that can accommodate the 10,000 military athletes who will compete. This year’s games will have the largest number of events ever, with badminton, table tennis, tennis and men’s gymnastics included for the first time.

The US Armed Forces will send about 300 athletes to Wuhan, according to state-run Xinhua. One of them is Mark Juliano, an archer and taekwondo player, who told the news agency: “You developed world-class venues and I can’t wait to experience the games.”

The Chinese president has high hopes for the PLA athletes at this year’s Military World Games, according to an insider. Photo: Handout

The military insider said Xi had high hopes that the PLA would win gold in some of the events.

“The Russians are known to be very good at some sports but the PLA has yet to earn a reputation in any particular sport,” the insider said. “Xi hopes that the home ground advantage will give the PLA the edge this time.”

Another Beijing-based military source said the top brass had put great emphasis on the success of three events this year – the National Day parade, Military World Games and the Xiangshan Dialogue.

The source said it would be the biggest Xiangshan Forum since China began holding the event more than a decade ago, and dozens of senior foreign defence officials and military leaders invited to the games in Wuhan would also take part in the forum.

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Set up in 2006, China uses the forum to play host to foreign military experts and leaders and discuss security and defence issues in the Asia-Pacific region. It is widely seen as an effort by Beijing to compete with the Asia Security Forum in Singapore, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel where it is staged.

The theme of this year’s Xiangshan Forum is “Maintaining international order and promoting peace in the Asia-Pacific”. Military observers said Beijing was likely to use it as an opportunity to reinforce its position on issues like the South China Sea and US arms sales to Taiwan.

Defence Minister Wei Fenghe criticised the US for damaging ties with China at last year’s Xiangshan Forum. Photo: Xinhua
During his speech at the event last year, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe criticised the US for damaging ties with China and pushing its containment strategy against the country.

Yao Yunzhu, a retired PLA major general and a delegate at the forum, said this year’s event would give the PLA an opportunity to explain its strategy to foreign militaries, including the US.

“The relationship between the PLA and its American counterpart has been stable over the past year despite tensions between Beijing and Washington over issues such as trade,” Yao said.

“But that military relationship has been stable thanks to the efforts of the two militaries to keep their communication open, as well as improving their crisis management mechanism,” she added.

Another forum delegate, Zhu Feng, dean of the international relations school at Nanjing University, said smaller countries in the region would use the forum to raise their concerns over the impact of tensions between China and the US on the region’s long-term stability.