Why Is China Training Military Officers Around the World?

December 24, 2021 Updated: December 25, 2021


Four centuries after being occupied by the British, Barbados recently became a republic, renouncing Queen Elizabeth II in the process. Time to rejoice. Well, not quite. As Barbados cuts ties with Britain, it becomes closer with Beijing.

In 2019, shortly before the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt, the governments of Barbados and China signed an agreement to jointly advance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The author Robert Hardman, commenting on the deal, warned the Barbadians that there is “no such thing as a free lunch.” A significant price, in other words, must be paid. By signing a deal with Beijing, a country essentially enters into a Faustian bargain, trading the keys to the house for a few nice roads and buildings. Sadly, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, seems oblivious to this fact.

Not only is the Caribbean nation part of the BRI, it has been sending its military officers to China for training. Not just traditional military training, but Chinese language and culture training.

In fact, on closer inspection, dozens of countries around the world are sending military officers to China for training. The question, though, is why?

What do South Korea, Singapore, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have in common? Not much, on first inspection, However, all of these countries receive military training from Beijing, and all of these countries have sent officers to China for training.

In Pakistan, China also provides training to military personnel.

Each year, members of Botswana Defence Forces (BDF) travel to China for training.

In 2019, Nigeria, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Beijing, allowing members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to train its troops.

In Namibia, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) funded a state-of-the-art military college.

In Tanzania, you will find the Comprehensive Training Center (CTC), a Chinese-built training facility for the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF).

Interestingly, under its most recent China-Africa Action Plan 2018-2021, China receives at least 5,000 military professionals annually. Of course, if the people can’t come to China, China will come to the people.

Is China attempting to build a world army? No. The CCP has other plans.

Pakistan and China military
Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani (left) and General Hou Shusen (right), deputy chief of staff of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), watch the Pakistan-China military drill in Jhelum, Pakistan, on Nov. 24, 2011. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

All of the abovementioned countries are members of the aforementioned Belt and Road Initiative. To understand the power of the BRI, one must fully appreciate the power of attraction, or “soft power.”

To quote Joseph Nye, the father of “hard power” and “soft power,” the application of the latter occurs when “one country gets other countries to want what it wants … in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.”

Whereas “hard power” relies on coercion, using military or economic muscle to get a country to bend to certain demands, “soft power” involves launching a charm offensive. It centers around the allure of a country’s culture, political ideologies, policies, and visions for the future.

The BRI, you see, is all about “soft power.” Ostensibly, by signing a deal with China, a country receives improved infrastructure, including new bridges and ports. In reality, by signing such a deal, a country allows the CCP access to its resources and access to its people.

The training of military personnel from around the world must be viewed through a much broader lens. With the CCP, it’s all about control—controlling the minds of the masses, from the media to the military. In all of the above countries (except Yemen), Confucius Institutes (CIs) can be found. These institutes are run by Hanban, an organization affiliated with the CCP.

Not surprisingly, since the first ever CI opened in the South Korean city of Seoul in 2004, criticisms have come thick and fast. Staff at these institutes have been accused of conducting industrial and military espionage, as well as cracking down on conversations involving Taiwan and Tibet.

The CCP’s influence can be felt not just in academia, but also in various branches of government. A recent report by the human rights group Safeguard Defenders highlights this in great detail. In countries like Cambodia, Kenya, Malaysia and the Philippines—all BRI members—Taiwan nationals have been extradited or deported. However, as the report highlights, “they have not been returned to Taiwan.” Instead, under “increasing pressure from Beijing,” these foreign governments have instead forcibly sent them to China, “where they have no roots and no families.” These countries are willing participants in “transnational repression,” allowing the CCP to pursue “economic fugitives, Uyghur refugees, human rights defenders, and fleeing Hong Kongers.”

This is what I meant by a Faustian bargain. Once that pen hits the paper, and once a country’s leaders sign on the dotted line, the CCP becomes a shadow government. It moves in, builds training centers and ideological institutes; it goes about molding minds and shaping policies. More often than not, as the deportation of innocent people shows, it succeeds in its attempts to poison governments and rewrite policies.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published, among others, by the New York Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.