BEIJING, March 25 (ChinaMil) -- Tan Zhiwei, director of Overseas Operations Office of the Operations Bureau of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), participated in the two-day “Joint Evacuation-2016” China-U.K. joint Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) tabletop exercise being held in Nanjing. Sources told Global Times that this is the first public appearance of China’s “Overseas Operations Office”.
China has reorganized its Central Military Commission in January 2016. Its former general headquarters/departments system, including the General Staff Headquarters, the General Political Department, the General Logistics Department and the General Armament Department, now turned into 15 functional departments (seven departments/offices, three commissions and five subordinate offices/agencies) under the CMC.
The “Overseas Operations Office” is likely to be a new institution established along with this adjustment. The emergence of this Office meets needs of the trend.
In recent years, with the increase of overseas interests, the Chinese military faces increasing overseas tasks including naval escort, international aid and rescue, joint military exercises and evacuation. Chinese military’s overseas operations have become the norm.
According to public reports, operations departments were responsible for such overseas operations. For example, after the evacuation task in Yemen in 2015, Liang Yang, the then deputy director of the Operations Department of the PLA Navy Headquarters, attended the press conference organized by China’s Foreign Ministry on behalf of the PLA Navy.
In contrast, the U.S. overseas military operations are organized by its overseas theater commands. The U.S. military’s participation in the rescue of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was organized by the U.S. Pacific Command.
It is reported that the PLA Overseas Operations Department is responsible for directing and coordinating actions carried out by Chinese troops overseas. Its establishment can enhance rapid overseas response capabilities of the Chinese military.
The Overseas Operations Office focused on directing and coordinating overseas operations and thus the establishment of the Office is conducive to quick overseas actions.
Different military operations such as overseas escort, rescue and relief and evacuation have their own requirements. As a result of this, the "Overseas Operations Office" not only requires "operational commanding capabilities", but also "policy capacity."
Policy capacity refers to the ability to grasp the national security situation and bilateral relations. For example, the evacuation operation in Yemen required the assessment on local security situation and diplomatic access to enter the port of Aden.
Foreign media reported that during the " two sessions" this year, Dai Shaoan, deputy to China’s National People's Congress and former military attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Egypt, suggested that the codes of operations for different overseas military operations including anti-terrorist operation, overseas escort, rescue and relief and operations to rescue the hostages should be formulated by the relevant functional departments of the Chinese military. The Overseas Operations Office should also bear part of such functions.
“At present, when the Chinese military participates in overseas military operations other than the United Nations peacekeeping operations, issues such as the distance transportation of troops, and transit of weapons and equipment can only be conducted through diplomatic channels case by case,” said Dai Shaoan.
He further suggested that it is better to join or sign conventions, treaties, memoranda, agreements and other bilateral and multilateral legal documents in order to provide legal protection for the promotion of the normalization of China’s overseas military operations.
Zhang Junshe, a military expert, analyzed the principles of the evacuation in Yemen in 2015 by the PLA Navy in an interview with Global Times: firstly, China pursues a policy of non-interference and non-intervention of local conflicts; secondly, Chinese warships and aircraft obtained the consent of the local government for this mission.
At the same time, China also communicated with the opposition force to prevent misjudgment and accidental injury; thirdly, the Chinese troops will not use firearms or only use with caution. The use of weapons is primarily for self-defense to protect their own safety, Zhang Junshe said.
In addition to providing guidance on operations, the responsibilities of the Overseas Operations Office apparently include undertaking joint actions with foreign militaries.
The most representative one is the “Joint Evacuation-2016” China-U.K. joint NEO tabletop exercise.This exercise provides the Chinese military with experience for overseas tasks and future cooperation with foreign militaries.
Zhang Junshe said it is the first evacuation drill jointly conducted by the Chinese and foreign military. The evacuation operations in Libya and Yemen provide a wealth of experience for the Chinese Navy. In Yemen, China has evacuated not only Chinese citizens, but also foreign nationals from a dozen countries.
Zhang Junshe said that the Chinese Navy has mastered first-hand experience. British Navy has rich experience in overseas evacuations. So, the discussion and tabletop exercise on overseas evacuation with British military will contribute to similar operations in the future.
"If a country is in political instability such as a civil war, expatriates’ life and property safety being seriously threatened, the Chinese and British militaries can carry out joint rescue and evacuation operations. It is possible that the two sides can agree on the relationship of command and coordination in a short time. This is of positive significance for joint evacuations,” commented Zhang.
The author is Guo Yuandan from the Global Times. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and don't represent views of the China Military Online website.