Inside China: PLA center stage in quake relief

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What was presumed to be an earthquake relief operation led by civilians quickly became an all-out campaign by the People’s Liberation Army to show off its mobilization capability and high-tech weapons with an over-the-top propaganda theme — “The PLA Loves The People.”

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake Saturday struck the city of Ya’an in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nearly 200 people were killed and about 1,500 remain hospitalized.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang rushed to the province of Sichuan within hours of the quake to inspect the damage and organize relief efforts.

But the world’s largest army — with 2.3 million troops — quickly upstaged the premier and civilian disaster relief agencies by organizing a spectacular show of force.

Within the first hour after the quake, the Chengdu Military Regional Command, one of the seven regional headquarters in charge of military affairs for the country’s southwestern provinces, dispatched 2,000 troops in trucks to the quake’s epicenter.

Within one day after the quake, more than 10,000 troops were ordered into the area to conduct door-to-door search-and-rescue, providing an impressive display of the army’s long-range transport capabilities.

On the second day after the quake, another 8,000 troops were sent in to direct relief operations.

It soon became apparent that the military service branches were competing to upstage each other.

One day after the quake, air force chief Gen. Ma Xiaotian flew to the remote city with a sizable entourage. He offered rapid airlift support for troops from other branches of the military.

He also managed to commandeer the Chinese satellite agencies loosely under his command and took over five military satellites to provide real-time monitoring and surveillance for the ground troops in the Ya’an area.

The state news agency Xinhua reported that China’s Beidou global positioning system, operated by the military’s General Staff in conjunction with the air force, also took part in the relief effort.

Not to be outdone, the navy announced its efforts. Within hours of the quake, a navy’s classified surveillance plane — code-named “Certificate of Merit” and loaded with hush-hush remote sensors — was sent into the quake-stricken area to provide a damage assessment and other information to analysts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xinhua reported that the mini-drones scanned the earthquake area from at least 12 angles using live video transmitted from the epicenter.

The ground troops also dispatched at least 48 transport helicopters to move troops and the wounded. Many of the helicopters are Russian-made Mi-171 transports with heavy-lifting VK-2500 engines that make the aircraft suitable for high-altitude-terrain operations.

China maintains large internal security forces known as the People’s Armed Police, or more recently the Armed Police Force, which is under the command of the PLA.

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