China’s special forces need to extend overseas reach to safeguard interests, military mouthpiece says

China’s special forces should take a greater role in protecting ­national overseas interests, ­including energy sources and their supply lines, and play a ­bigger role in counterterrorism operations, the military’s mouthpiece said yesterday.

The special forces were gradually becoming the main military instrument to deal with security, a PLA Daily commentary said.

“The regions where we have a key stake are both geopolitically important and energy rich, and also are intersections of terrorism and foreign interference, full of uncertainties, risk and increasingly prominent security problems,” it said.

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With strength in “detection, combat and assessment”, the units could play a key role in safeguarding the country’s overseas interests, the commentary said.

China established the special forces within the People’s Liberation Army and paramilitary in the 1980s as it sought to adjust to modern hi-tech warfare. The officers are selectively picked, trained and equipped.

Some units have taken part in overseas missions, such as the navy’s escort mission in the Gulf of Aden starting in 2008. “So far in peacetime they have been more focused on domestic security and anti-terrorism tasks,” Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said.

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The PLA Daily commentary said special forces should cooperate more with other forces in anti-piracy missions to ensure transport lines vital to China’s trade and energy were protected.

“The regular use of special forces requires focusing our limited resources on protecting the country’s significant core interests,” the commentary said. It added the special forces should also take on operations involving hijackings and hostage rescue.

Chinese citizens travelling or working abroad have increasingly become targets of terrorist attacks and abduction. In 2012, about 30 Chinese workers were captured by rebels in South Sudan. In 2014, a Chinese-backed project in Iraq with around 1,000 workers came under siege from the militant group Islamic State.

A law that came into effect in January authorises the PLA, the paramilitary, the police and national security agents to fight terrorism overseas. “At the moment the special forces are prepared for international anti-terrorism operations, but such operations must acquire permission from the ­[other] country,” Li said.

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