Recent high-level military meetings between China and the US have underscored the evolution of China's military and its changing relationship with the international community, especially the United States.
And to embrace this new evolution, China's defense ministry's new website, launched last month (http://eng.mod.gov.cn), features an unprecedented amount of public information and content about the country's armed forces. The new site, which is in both Mandarin and English, went online just days after the Pentagon unveiled its revamped Web presence, Defense.gov.
The US and Chinese military sites bear a lot of similarities. Both contain news releases, explanations of defense policies, and profiles of their respective leaderships. They also feature institutional histories and time lines, as well as audio and video of personnel in action.
But the main difference between the two sites is in how each approaches their respective audiences. The front page of the US site features prominent links - telling viewers "we want to hear from you" and "connect with us". It encourages visitors to be interactive, asking questions for the US secretary of defense to answer and voting on which defense policy issues they find most important.
Pentagon officials say their new site is also more streamlined, intuitive and user-friendly than earlier versions, especially for younger members of its audience. It contains live blogs, social networking sites, and links to YouTube and Twitter, among other features.
Price Floyd, the US principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said that while he's been unable to access the new Chinese Defense Ministry site, from what he has read, he believes the Chinese and US sites have a lot in common. He quoted a recent notice about the Defense Ministry website's launch, with its intent to "improve cooperation with foreigners" and "display before the world the fine image of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as a mighty, civilized and peaceful force".
Floyd said the US welcomes the new efforts by the PLA and the Chinese government to bring greater transparency to China's armed forces. He added that the new Defense Ministry website has the potential to improve government-to-government communications.
"The way people communicate today necessitates all these organizations being on the Web," he said. "I hope they continue going down this pathway, because where they are right now is one-way communications, albeit better than before. They need to hear from their own people and others [about] how they view the PLA. And they'd be surprised by what they hear."
Other US military observers said the Defense Ministry website is a natural progression in China's emergence as a global power. "We see this as an evolution in terms of the PLA's efforts to improve its ability to project the type of image that it wants to project to the world," said a senior US Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The new Chinese site, according to the official, may prove to be useful, especially as China expands and modernizes its military.
Despite the efforts by both militaries to reach out, relations between the US and Chinese armed forces have been strained by naval confrontations this year, US arm sales to Taiwan and demands from Beijing that the US reduce its surveillance of the Chinese coast. There are also concerns on the American side about how China plans to use its military - in support of the international community, or for "disruptive" purposes.
"How China chooses to employ its forces is something that is not entirely clear to us," said the official. "All we can do at this point is to take a look at what they are buying and what they are building and what they are developing - and hopefully be able to have the type of conversation that leads to a greater understanding."
A meeting in London last April between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao was followed by the resumption of defense consultative talks in June between the US and China. It was also followed by maritime safety talks in August, meant to reduce incidents such as the naval confrontation in the South China Sea.
And, according to the official, there's a good chance the Defense Ministry's website is meant to reduce concerns from China's neighbors regarding nation's "peaceful rise".