China's Defense Ministry will launch its first official Web site next month in what state media said on Thursday was an effort by the secretive military to be more transparent. China has long been tightlipped about its military strength and capacity, drawing criticism from other countries wary of the Asian giant's growing power and skyrocketing military spending, although Beijing says it is purely for defense.
The Web site in English and Chinese will run on a trial basis starting Aug. 1, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest with 2.3 million members, the official China Daily said.
Its editors say they hope to make it as informative as the US Defense Department's Web site, the newspaper reported. The Web site appears aimed at reassuring Asian and Western nations that the PLA is becoming more accessible to the outside world, dxperts told the China Daily.
"As more attention is being given to online information, the Chinese army has moved one step forward in its public diplomacy," Professor Li Xiguang, dean of Tsinghua University's journalism school, was quoted as saying.
The Web site's launch "is a major step for the PLA to open up to the outside world," Sr Col Huang Xueping, deputy director of the ministry's information office, said in an interview with the newspaper. The office was only set up last year.
The site will "cover a large amount of information," featuring regular activities and background of the Chinese military. China's military spending has jumped by double-digit percentages for nearly two decades. This year, Beijing announced a 14.9 per cent rise in military spending to 480.68 billion yuan ($70.27 billion), though it was a smaller increase than previous years. That spending puts it on par with Japan, Russia and Britain, but it is still dwarfed by the US, which spends nearly 10 times as much.
In recent years, China has been increasing its international military ties as it attempts to modernize its army. Earlier this year, Chinese warships were sent to patrol waters off Somalia as part of the international effort against piracy.
But China's military growth has also been the source of friction, with multiple confrontations at sea this year between Chinese vessels and US naval ships, including a collision between a Chinese submarine and a US sonar device.
In March, the US Defense Department released a report saying Beijing's rapidly growing military power was shifting the military balance in the region and could be used to enforce its claim in disputed territories. While tensions have eased between the two sides, it warned that "much uncertainty surrounds China's future course, particularly regarding how its expanding military power might be used."
The military is also planning to establish more information offices nationwide and hold more press conferences, spokesman Huang said.
The first batch of military press officers, selected from the different armed forces, graduated in March from a boot camp on public relations, the China Daily reported.