The Chinese Military’s Role in Overseas Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief: Contributions and Concerns

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Summary: 

Over the past two decades, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has expanded its involvement in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) missions outside China’s borders. Through its contributions to HA/DR, Beijing has provided important assistance to disaster-stricken populations and sought to burnish its image as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. At the same time, Beijing routinely allows political considerations to guide its participation in HA/DR missions, violating the humanitarian spirit of these operations and suggesting Chinese leaders may view HA/DR less as a global good than an instrument of influence. Moreover, the PLA has cooperated haltingly with international partners during these missions and at times willfully disregarded best practices for military participation in HA/DR. This report examines the drivers behind the PLA’s increasing participation in HA/DR abroad; the impact, both positive and problematic, of the PLA’s involvement in several recent multinational disaster relief operations; and the implications of the PLA’s involvement in and approach to these missions for the United States.

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