How is China bolstering its military diplomatic relations?

by ChinaPower/CSIS

Military diplomacy can be broadly defined as a set of non-combat activities carried out by a country’s armed forces to advance its national diplomatic interests. Military diplomatic activities often take the form of joint military exercises, high-level military dialogues, and naval port calls. In the case of China, its ongoing military modernization has enhanced the frequency and complexity of these activities. In general, military diplomatic activities provide China with opportunities to improve its global image and support its broader diplomatic agenda, while simultaneously enhancing its military operational capabilities.

Forms of Military Diplomacy

To assess China’s military diplomacy, we have divided related activities into five categories that are discussed below. These delineations are derived from a 2017 report by National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs entitled “Chinese Military Diplomacy, 2003-2016: Trends and Implications.” Unless otherwise cited, data used throughout this webpage comes from this report and its associated database.

Joint Military Exercises are one the most visible forms of military diplomatic activity. They typically involve the militaries of participating countries performing traditional and non-traditional operations. For instance, China routinely engages with Pakistan on bilateral air force military exercises, and often with Russia on bilateral naval and multilateral counterterrorism exercises.

Port calls provide opportunities for a country’s vessel to conduct a range of activities including functional maintenance, diplomatic exchanges, and humanitarian operations at foreign ports –  each of which can help strengthen diplomatic ties between countries. China’s expanding global presence has increased the frequency of foreign port calls. The establishment of a rotating Escort Task Force (ETF) fleet in 2008, which was designated to escort vessels and combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, has created additional needs and opportunities for China to make port calls across the Indo-Asia Pacific and as far away as Europe.

Senior-level meetings and military dialogues with foreign security leaders provide a channel for cooperation between countries. These dialogues serve as an important avenue for crisis management and help reduce the risk of miscalculation during military operations.  One such example occurred in August 2017, when China and the U.S. signed an agreement to enhance communication between their militaries. The agreement, which is intended to support crisis mitigation, may prove to be particularly useful as both sides work to resolve instability on the Korean peninsula. Read more…

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