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.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by the United States Congress in October 2000 with the legislative mandate to monitor, investigate, and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and to provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.