China’s Secretive Military Opens Up in Cyberspace

BEIJING — China’s military launched a long-promised strategic assault Thursday on its skeptics and detractors, a globe-spanning offensive powered not by arms, but entirely by charm.

The weapon was the Defense Ministry’s new Web site, its sharp home page topped by a photograph of a winding Great Wall and studded below with links to military news, video and photographs. The lead item on Thursday dealt not with missiles or troops, but with President Hu Jintao’s expressions of sympathy to Taiwan, which is believed to have lost more than 500 lives this month to a typhoon.

The site, which has Chinese and English versions, is another step by China’s famously secretive armed forces to give outsiders a peek at their operations, or at least the view they want to offer. The ministry named a press spokesman only last year; last month the People’s Liberation Army, or P.L.A., bused journalists to a base near Beijing for an afternoon of watching soldiers fire mortars and conduct mock counterterrorism operations.

A notice about the Web site said it was intended to give outsiders a better understanding of China’s defense policies, improve cooperation with foreigners and “display before the world the fine image of the P.L.A. as a mighty, civilized and peaceful force.”

The contents range from ordinary news (“Chinese Navy fights pirates”) to background material (“Thirty years of reform and development”) to carefully phrased opinion (“Sino-foreign military exchange and co-op boosts regional stability”).

Part of the site seemed to be a work in progress. Late Thursday, there was a lot of blank space at the top of the home page, and what looked like a photo gallery was evidently not functioning. It had no pictures, only blank boxes containing the word “undefined.”

In style and tone, the site is not radically different from some Internet offerings by the Pentagon. But while many foreign militaries have openly, if grudgingly, accepted public scrutiny in recent decades, much in China remains tightly held, from strategic doctrine to weapons development.

“China is more open to the world. So is the P.L.A.,” an army commander, Col. Leng Jiesong, told journalists during the July tour of the army base.

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