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New website gives insight into army
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The Ministry of National Defense (MND) will launch an official bilingual website on Aug 1.

The move, military experts say, is a leap forward for the Chinese army, which is attempting to be more transparent and focus more on "public diplomacy".

The launch of the site, in Chinese and in English, is meant to allow more access to the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Senior Colonel Huang Xueping, deputy director-general of the MND's information office, said yesterday that the website will operate on a trial basis. The start date marks the 82nd anniversary of the founding of the 2.3-million-strong PLA.

Access to the PLA has been limited to tightly controlled reports that have appeared in a handful of media organizations.

Analysts and web users have hoped that a portal similar to the US Pentagon's "Defense Link" would be established so that regular information could be disseminated about China's effort to modernize its army.

"The launch of the MND website is a major step for the PLA to open up to the outside world," said Huang, in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

"As the Chinese army develops, the army has valued diplomacy with foreign militaries and has paid great attention to informing the public of China's defense policies and troop images through the platform we established."

The official did not elaborate on the website's contents, but web editors running the official site said the portal will "cover a large amount of information", featuring both regular activities and background about the Chinese army.

"We hope the website is as informative as Defense Link, the gateway to the US Pentagon," one editor said.

The Chinese army in recent years has sped up military-to-military exchanges with foreign troops and eased up on its reluctance to release information about the PLA's forces.

The navy's anti-piracy fleet also shared intelligence with other nations' naval fleets, including the US and Japan, during its historic mission to guard Chinese and foreign merchant ships against the threat of pirates off the coast of Somalia.

China has sent three contingents of warships to the troubled region since last December, joining the naval forces of about 20 nations in combating piracy.

The PLA invited 29 naval delegations to the coastal city of Qingdao in April for a grand fleet review and naval exchanges to mark the navy's 60th anniversary.

Foreign military attaches were also invited to a missile base near Beijing in April.

And many will be on hand to observe the weapons display at Tiananmen Square during a military parade marking the country's 60th National Day on Oct 1.

"It is a welcome development, definitely, and we look forward to knowing what will be the content on display on the official website," said Lieutenant Colonel Puneet Ahuja, deputy defense attache of the Indian embassy in China.

"As more attention is being given to online information, the Chinese army has moved one step forward in its public diplomacy," said Professor Li Xiguang, an advocate of press officers for China's cabinet and ministries and executive dean of Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication in Beijing.

Huang said the MND is working to improve its press release mechanism. He said information offices will be established at more military institutions nationwide.

The army's official newspaper reported that the first group of "press officers", selected from different armed forces, graduated from a boot camp on public relations in March.

"We may consider making more regular press briefings in the future while keeping contacts with domestic and overseas media organizations in Beijing," said Huang. "The aim is to release information on China's defense and military modernization to create a better understanding of the Chinese military."

(China Daily July 23, 2009)

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