As China rises and India emerges, their military engagement with the rest of the world has steadily grown. As they turned inwards in the 1950s, both Beijing and Delhi turned insular in the military domain too.
While the Indian armed forces retained a measure of international presence through their participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operations, the People's Liberation Army largely remained in the shadows. In the last decade, Beijing has put a special emphasis on military diplomacy as an important element of China's national security strategy. As its interests become global, China's international military footprint is rapidly growing.
While the external interaction of the Indian armed forces has grown considerably since the early 1990s, Beijing scores over Delhi in the better institutionalisation and greater integration of its military diplomacy with the conduct of external relations. A recent report in the PLA Daily underlines what it calls the "splendour" of China's military diplomacy.
According Qian Lihua, the director general of the foreign affairs office of the ministry of national defence, China's military diplomacy during 2006-10 has "witnessed constant expansion with more objects, wider fields and greater depth, forming an all-dimensional, multi-tiered and wide-ranging landscape." Qian reports that up till now "the People's Republic of China has established military relations with 150-plus countries and set up the military attache offices in 112 countries while 102 countries have set up their military attache offices in China."
He adds that "PLA dispatches about 170-plus military delegations to visit foreign countries and receives 200-plus foreign military delegations every year." The PLA also sent 1,200-plus military students to study in nearly 100 military academies of 30-plus countries.
The PLA's military diplomacy covers the full range from high-level contacts, professional exchanges, personnel training, joint exercises and training, international arms control and public diplomacy. It involves the general headquarters/departments, armed services and the area commands of the PLA.