For the Chinese public, the Marine Corps has a glamorous image, as seen in the hit Chinese film "Operation Red Sea" (红海行动). But the training is anything but glamorous. We saw that for ourselves during our stay in Sanya, the base of the Jiaolong Commandos, an elite special operations force of the People's Liberation Army Navy.
The name Jiaolong means "Sea Dragon". We were allowed to film three key training sessions: Backwater infiltration, jungle search, and urban counter-terrorism.
Being the toughest unit
"The biggest transformation in me should be the shaping of my own values. No matter what problems we encounter, we should learn to be like a soldier, like a man," says Luo Ping, a member of Jiaolong Commando.
22-year-old Luo has been a member of the commando unit for two years. He is a graduate of the prestigious Tsinghua University. The government has instituted preferential policies to attract university talents into the military. Luo Ping sees becoming a commando as becoming a real man. The training is ruthless and tiring, on both land and sea. The satisfaction is immense. And they know the enemy they have to face is real.
Point of the sword
"Our special operations force is the vanguard in joint operations. We should be the point of the sword in joint operations, to strike terror into the enemy," says Gong Kaifeng, squadron officer of the Jiaolong Commandos.
26-year-old Gong has been a commando for seven years. He's participated in the 25th escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and joint international operations. For him, the biggest transformation is the Marine Corps is now combat-oriented and more international.
The corps was formed in the 1950s for amphibious assaults. Today, the goal is an expeditionary force for missions far beyond territorial waters.
Opening new frontiers
According to a Defense Ministry statement, the Marine Corps was established to strengthen the structure of the Navy but later became its own branch. With more amphibious capabilities planned, expansion and reorganization are on the table, with equipment and training upgrades.
In contrast to its U.S. counterpart, the Chinese army does not have a unified Special Operations Force Command and the numbers of the PLA Marine Corps have never been officially disclosed.
As the Navy's emphasis on amphibious capabilities grows, the Jialong Commandos will be further integrated with other divisions in joint combat operations. The Navy will continue to prioritize the Marine Corps to make it one of the strongest in the world.