A group of 10 French defense journalists, of which I was a fortunate member, has just returned from a week-long tour of some of China's military establishments.
I was advised by various sources not to take a computer with me, so blogging has had to wait for my return.
This is only the second time that the Chinese defense ministry has ever invited Western journalists to visit: The first time was last year and only four went along, including my colleague from the respected French daily Le Monde and the Paris correspondent of Defense News, who was unable to come along this time because the visit was reserved to those who hold French passports.
It's still not very clear to me exactly what the Chinese agenda was, except perhaps to show us that its army is designed for defense, not offense, and so the West should be less shy about selling them technology ... which is clearly what they're after.
“Throughout our history we have never had expansionist ambitions,” one senior military official told us, and it is true that China has been invaded frequently throughout its long history.
We saw an air base with only two aircraft on the tarmac: a J-10 and the training version, a ship (and a submarine, but we weren't supposed to see that!), which must be their show ship because — given the obvious lack of wear and tear — it cannot have spent very much time at sea, and an impressive display from the army. We were allowed to photograph almost everything we saw, so here is a small sample. More tomorrow.
Here is the description they gave:
Below is an anti-aircraft gun:
and its description:
and as those of us with cameras were allowed close-up during the exercise I caught these three earnest young men in action: