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UPDATED: June 25, 2015
China and Denmark Seek to Strengthen Military Cooperation
By Pan Xiaoqiao

General Peter Bartram speaks to Chinese media at a press conference at the Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing on June 19 (PAN XIAOQIAO)

The militaries of China and Denmark have announced their intent to pursue cooperation in the areas of peacekeeping, maritime affairs and academic ventures. At a June 19 press conference at the Royal Danish Embassy in Beijing, Chief of Defense of Denmark General Peter Bartram discussed the decision. "So far on chief of defense level, we have talked about it and we've agreed that we'll investigate how to deepen into those three different areas," the general commented.

The press conference was held as part of a five-day visit General Bartram paid to China in mid-June, during which the defense chief visited Beijing and Xi'an and met Admiral Chang Wanquan, China's Defense Minister, and Admiral Fang Fenghui, Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

His was the third visit from a high-level Danish official in two years, following visits by Queen Margrethe II and the Danish minister of defense in early 2014. During his trip, the general made a speech at the PLA National Defense University and paid visits to a Tianjin-based Air Force division and a guard division under the Beijing Military Area Command. He also visited the Peacekeeping Center of China's Ministry of National Defense, which he termed a "wonderful facility."

China first began participating in the UN peacekeeping operations in the mid-1990s. In December 2013, the country sent security forces to Mali for a UN peacekeeping mission, representing the first time China had pledged infantry troops to such a venture. According to General Bartram, a Danish general recently became the force commander of the mission in the West African country and will oversee forces from a number of countries including China.

"Because it is the force commander, Denmark is also looking into possibilities to increase its contribution to Mali, so more Danish soldiers could be in Mali together with the Chinese and many other nations," said the general when talking about cooperation in peacekeeping operations. "The common experience from Mali could be useful."

With regard to maritime affairs, the general said that his country has a key interest in counter-piracy. "Despite our small nation, we have a fairly large representative in world transportation on the sea. We have a key interest in protecting our sea line corporations, and I believe China has the same interests. I guess that's what brought us together outside the Horn of Africa."

The Chinese and Danish navies previously collaborated in an international mission off the coast of Syria in early 2014, when naval ships from China, Denmark, Russia, Norway and UK served to escort vessels in the transport of Syria's chemical weapons for destruction.

"Despite the little size of Denmark, Denmark was commander of that operation. Such common experiences are probably the best foundation for bringing any cooperation forward. Just imagine you need to coordinate what it takes, and if you have different navies, different cultures and different backgrounds, you get trained and experience on how to be together to get most out of it."

The general also disclosed that in order to further strengthen ties between the two countries' navies, plans are afoot for China's escort task group to visit Denmark while the Danish chief of navy staff will in turn come to China later this year. "We have decided that we should let our two navy admirals meet in this November to decide on the more concrete plans, but so far there haven't been any fixed planning."

Cooperation in the field of academia was also stressed during General Bartram's visit. In his address to the National Defense University, he said that between the two militaries, there was room for more conferences, guest lectures and visits to one another's educational facilities.

Despite the fact that the Denmark is the only Western nation to have enjoyed an uninterrupted diplomatic presence in China since 1908, military cooperation between the two has been a topic rarely discussed over the past few decades. This can perhaps be attributed to factors such as the distance between the two countries and Denmark's NATO membership.

"This year we have celebrated the 65th year's anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between our two countries. Heads of state and also ministers of defense have had met and they have agreed on the political side that our military should look into areas where we can cooperate. This is a political decision based on 65 years' good relationship between our two countries," said the general.

The general acknowledged that military cooperation between his country and China is still in its infancy. "I don't think we have identified any challenges yet. "We've seen a number of opportunities we need to explore. We will need to talk, to discuss and to identify the areas where we can both agree on."

Apart from military visits, General Bartram also took the opportunity to enjoy a short stroll along the Great Wall, and to appreciate "the marvelous place of the Forbidden City," as he put it, in addition to the terra cotta warriors in Xi'an. The general said he was deeply impressed by the history and culture of China. "I know there is so much more to see, and I believe it's relevant to also see historical sites and cultural parts of a nation to understand that nation well."

About the Chief of Defense of Denmark

The chief of defense is the highest-ranking military officer in Denmark and supervises a large part of Denmark's military spending. Under responsibility of the minister of defense, the holder of the position serves as the commander of the Royal Danish Army, the Royal Danish Navy and the Royal Danish Air Force, as well as acting as military advisor to the minister of defense and head of the defense command. 

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