China on the Defensive

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Many emerging economies are increasing their spending on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence. Whether by improving protective and detection equipment available to their military or by implementing the contingency planning necessary to host international events on the subject, it is China that is contributing to the strong growth in the global CBRN defence market.

China currently participates in all of the multilateral initiatives dedicated to the nonproliferation of CBRN weapons and it has also joined or enacted export controls concerning the proliferation of sensitive goods and technology. Although Chinese controls on the trade of sensitive weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related materials have improved recently, the United States continues to sanction Chinese companies for sensitive exports.

China Army 1China is also party to most major international agreements regulating biological weapons, including the Geneva Protocol and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). However, it is not a member of the Australian Group (AG), a voluntary supply-side export control regime focused on chemical and biological weapons, but China’s export control regulations currently bring them in line with AG guidelines and controls.

China ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in April 1997, declaring three former chemical weapon (CW) production facilities that may have produced mustard gas, phosgene, and Lewisite. Additionally, in 2012 it declared some 200 CW production facilities open for inspection and in April 2013, China hosted more than 300 inspections by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

With a massive $132 billion 2014 defence budget, an increase of 12.2 per cent over the previous year, China is forging ahead with a comprehensive programme to expand and modernize its armed forces.The National Land CBRN Emergency Rescue Team was set up by the CBRN protection troop unit/detachment of the Beijing Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2009, and it has successfully completed several important tasks in recent years, including emergency radiation monitoring after the earthquake damaged the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, and disposal of the chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese invasion forces in China.

The anti-chemical component of the PLA established a preliminary nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection system tailored to joint operations, and has greatly increased its capabilities of rapid NBC protection, NBC emergency rescue and operations against NBC terrorism.

The Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is a strategic service of the Chinese armed forces and is responsible for such tasks as safeguarding the country’s territorial air space and territorial sovereignty, and maintaining a stable air defense posture nationwide. It also has a chemical defense section.

After a 25-year of buildup and development, a PLA reserve force has become an important component of the national defense reserve. Made up of army, navy and air reserves it includes infantry, artillery, and mechanized combat units, and chemical defence units.

The past two years has seen a growing number of large scale training exercises that include chemical defence units. In 2013 China’s first maritime CBRN emergency rescue team of a submarine base of the North China Sea Fleet of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) conducted an exercise that included real-time monitoring, delineation of contaminated areas, sample collection and analysis, and decontamination of contaminated equipment, personnel and ground with new-type equipment in a sea area.

Chine Nuclear BombIn June 2014, the OPCW and the United Nations made a statement on June 23, 2014, confirming that the last batch of raw materials of chemical weapons declared by the government of Syria had been shipped out of Syria, marking the end of the PLAN’s escort mission for shipping Syria’s chemical weapons. It was the first time that China had provided marine transport support for the destruction of chemical weapons, and the first time for the Chinese navy to take joint actions with the navies of Russia, Denmark, Norway and other countries in the Mediterranean Sea.

‘Joint Operation 2014E’, a major tri-service military exercise in northeast China took place in October 2014. The exercise mainly consisted of the 39th Combined Corps and certain PLAAF troops under the Shenyang MAC together with three corps-level units and over 20 division/brigade-level units including detachments of PLA and PLAAF anti-chemical troops,

A chemical defense battalion under a maritime garrison command of the East China Sea Fleet of the PLAN also conducted a chemical defense emergency drill in December 2014. The scenario was that a “poisonous gas leakage” had occurred in a chemical factory in Shanghai. Chemical defense troops were quickly deployed to the accident site and accomplished emergency drills such as reconnaissance, demarcation, supervision and decontamination within half an hour.

In addition to countering the increasingly serious threats of CBRN terrorist attacks and emergencies that countries all around the world are faced with, China’s National Land CBRN Emergency Rescue Team’s mission will also include monitoring the safety of its 25 plus nuclear power stations in a country that is ravaged by natural disasters.

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