with interactive maps
Military Operations Other Than War
- China contributes in strong force to UN peacekeeping operations. Between February and July, China maintained personnel in 10 different UN peacekeeping missions. As of June, the highest number of troops, 1,061 out of China’s total contribution of 2,515 personnel, was deployed in South Sudan under UNMISS. Chinese peacekeepers have also participated in some small-scale UN-run operations. In early June, peacekeepers deployed in South Sudan carried out a joint mission with the South Sudanese government to arrest illegal militants in Juba. Chinese peacekeepers in Mali were also sent to evacuate wounded government forces on two separate occasions, on February 4 and April 18.
- China continues to participate in Gulf of Aden counter-piracy mission. On April 1, Beijing sent China’s 26th escort taskforce to the region to take over from the 25th taskforce, which had been deployed to waters off Somalia since January. China has maintained a naval presence in the region to combat piracy since 2008.
- Chinese navy stops pirate attacks on merchant vessels. On April 9, the PLAN’s frigate Yulin, which was part of China’s 25th taskforce to the Gulf of Aden, supported by an Indian helicopter, stopped an attack by suspected Somali pirates on a Tuvalu-flagged merchant ship. Three suspected pirates who were involved in the attempted hijacking were then transferred to Somali authorities. Just one week later, over the weekend of April 15-16, the frigate Hengyang, also from the 25th taskforce, rescued a Panamanian-flagged merchant ship from suspected pirates.
Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief
- PLA medical teams deploy abroad. PLA medical experts currently provide treatment at the hospitals of the armed forces in Ethiopia and Zambia. Both teams departed China in January and will be deployed for one year. The PLA also maintains a medical presence in Sierra Leone: in July, Beijing sent its 19th medical team to the country to replace the previous team.
- PLAN ships on visit to Sri Lanka help in relief operations. On June 31, Navy ships that were docked in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port for a goodwill visit helped with the government’s disaster relief operations after a series of recent floods. The Chinese ships donated material and sent a medical team inland to treat the wounded.
- Rumors of Chinese troops on Afghan soil. In February, the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst think tank reported that Chinese troops and military vehicles were conducting patrols on Afghan soil. Beijing denied this, claiming that the law enforcement forces of Beijing and Kabul were simply carrying out counter-terrorism operations along their common border. Regardless of whether Chinese troops crossed the border, this kind of operation is another clear sign of China’s growing fear that extremism and violence in Afghanistan could spill over into neighboring Xinjiang.
- Chinese fighter jets intercept US planes. On three separate occasions in May and July, Chinese fighter aircraft were scrambled to intercept US surveillance planes in waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea. These incidents were deemed “unprofessional” by the US Navy, as the US pilots claim that they had been flying through international airspace.
- China deploys troops to the Doklam area near the China-India-Bhutan trijunction. The standoff in Doklam (Donglang) – disputed between China and Bhutan – began in June when Indian troops confronted Chinese forces constructing a road in the area, accusing them of crossing the border with Bhutan. Beijing, in response, also sent troops to the area, which it claims as its own, beginning a military stalemate that continued as of August 1, in what was the most serious crisis in India-China relations in 30 years. Bhutan and China have no formal diplomatic relations but Thimphu maintains very close ties with India, which is why Indian troops were asked to intervene when Chinese troops allegedly crossed the border.
- PLA establishes first overseas military base in Djibouti. Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, commander of the PLAN, ordered the base’s official establishment and conferred a flag to the base garrison at a ceremony to mark the departure of troops designated for the base on July 11. The base was officially opened on August 1, after the arrival of the troops. This base, officially designated as an “overseas support facility,” will not only support PLAN deployments to the Gulf of Aden but will also allow Beijing to expand its security presence in the Middle East and protect BRI routes and projects in the region by running additional operations when needed.
- China finalizes structures in South China Sea that could house missiles. According to the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on military developments in China, these structures appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles. The Pentagon also believes that China aims to base fighter jets on artificial islands in the area.
- Sri Lanka denies China’s request to dock a submarine at Colombo port. Sri Lankan officials announced on May 11 that they had denied Beijing’s request to have a PLAN submarine visit Colombo, responding to India’s concerns over the issue. This move was clearly designed to prevent an outcry from New Delhi similar to the one triggered in October 2014, the last time a Chinese submarine docked in Colombo. Despite Colombo’s efforts, with Chinese companies owning the majority of Hambantota port and investing heavily in infrastructure in the country, it is very likely that Beijing will eventually manage to set up a dual-use facility in Sri Lanka.
Cyber and Space Capabilities
- China signs satellite navigation declaration with unnamed Arab countries. On May 24, China and a number of unidentified Arab countries signed a declaration to pledge cooperation on promoting the use of China’s Beidou Satellite Navigation System in Arab states at the First China-Arab States Beidou System Cooperation Forum held in Shanghai. Representatives from the 21-member Arab League reportedly attended the forum, where Wang Li, chairman of the China Satellite Navigation Committee announced that Beidou will be able to provide positioning and navigation systems to the region from the end of 2018.
- China makes progress towards setting up its own space station. On April 20, China’s first cargo spacecraft, the Tianzhou-1, launched from Hainan province and two days later it docked with an orbiting space lab to conduct in-orbit refueling. This is another step in China’s plan to set up a permanently manned space station by 2022. While not necessarily a military development, the space station will probably also be used to conduct observations of military interest. Furthermore, setting up a permanently manned space station will increase Beijing’s international standing, allowing China to challenge the United States as the world’s main space power. However, China’s ambitions took a tumble on July 2, when the launch of China’s latest heavy-lift carrier rocket failed. The Long March-5 Y2, whose capabilities are almost on par with those of US rockets, is supposed to launch the core module for China’s future space station, bringing into doubt the government’s proposed timeline of beginning construction in 2019.