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China's Emerging National Security Interests and Their Impact on the People's Liberation Army

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On 17 December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor lit himself on fire at the door of a government office that had refused to address his complaints. Like the single spark that Mao Zedong once said could start a prairie fire, this man s death set off a blast of unrest that engulfed not just Tunisia but Egypt, Libya, Syria, and beyond. In the early months of 2011, China found itself struggling to remain ahead of this sudden wave of antiregime uprisings, and to protect its overseas interests. The Chinese government reacted quickly, expressing strong concern that the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions could threaten its local energy investments, restrict energy flows through the Suez Canal, and weigh down its economic growth rates with a rise in energy prices. Faced with a sudden need to protect tens of thousands of its expatriate citizens, Beijing took an unprecedented step, calling upon the People s Liberation Army PLA to support the foreign ministry s evacuation efforts. The People s Liberation Army Navy PLAN dispatched a warship that was taking part in an antipiracy mission off the Horn of Africa to the waters off Libya. It also directed People s Liberation Army Air Force PLAAF transport planes to evacuate Chinese citizens. By 2 March, two weeks after the Libyan revolt erupted, more than 35,000 Chinese citizens had been safely removed. At the United Nations UN, Chinese diplomats worked to block or at least limit what they saw as Western efforts to exploit the crisis in order to promote international coercion against authoritarian regimes in the region. At home, the Twitter revolutions in the Middle East spurred Hu Jintao to speak of the need to strengthen control over cyberspace and the virtual society, while Beijing launched a crackdown on domestic dissent. Chinese security officials, meanwhile, conferred with Central Asian heads of state about how to prevent instability in China s Muslim borderlands.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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