BEIJING (AP) — China's military has a bulging arsenal of ships, warplanes and missiles, but this week, music is its weapon of choice.
A new recruiting video aimed at Chinese millennials raised on pop tunes and video games features a rap-rock soundtrack with lyrics such as "just waiting for the order to kill, kill, kill" and "war can break out at any time — are you ready?" In a frantic, near seizure-inducing music-video style montage, cutting-edge fighter jets zoom and special forces troops take out bad guys.
On a gentler, more traditional note, singers with a military song and dance team have been entertaining troops and construction workers stationed on China's new manmade islands in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands, underscoring Beijing's confidence in its increasingly dominant position in the disputed region.
Among the songs performed was "Ode to the South Sea Defenders," whose lyrics speak of "a troop of stout men with guns in their hands who battle the wind and fight the waves to guard the nation's door."
Though very different in sensibility, the two attempts at musical outreach show how the People's Liberation Army is trying to shape its image as a modern, high-tech fighting force capable of defending Chinese interests even far from home. That's an image that had been dented in recent decades as the world's largest standing military developed a reputation for corruption and lax discipline, and amid criticism that it is ultimately loyal not to the Chinese nation but to the ruling Communist Party.
The recruiting video in particular marks a new approach by the PLA as it seeks to attract well-qualified young recruits looking for adventure, but who might otherwise be tempted by the private sector.
"The mission is always on the mind. The foe is always in sight," the unknown rapper shouts at the beginning, following moody images of a serious-looking soldier in dress uniform.
Available Wednesday via a link on the Defense Ministry's official website, the video appears as the 2.3 million-member PLA is downsizing in an effort to boost its war-fighting capabilities. Chief among those steps is a cut of 300,000 personnel while shifting funding and attention away from the ground forces in favor of the navy, missile corps and air force.
Retired PLA Col. Yue Gang said the video represents a new approach, both in its visual language and in highlighting all branches of the armed forces, rather than just one or another as in past.
"The style of promotion accords with the attitudes of young people toward the army and the imagery used appeals to hot-blooded young men," said Yue, a frequent commentator on military affairs. "It is also a natural step for the army to adopt modern media technology to attract young men in modern times."
For its part, the variety show-style performances in the South China Sea represent a tried-and-true approach. Entitled "The People's Navy Advances" and also featuring skits and magic tricks, the show is part of a long tradition of People's Liberation Army performances aimed at entertaining, promoting ideological conformity and stirring pride in the military and ruling Communist Party.
Song Zuying, a famed singer of folk songs and patriotic anthems, headlined the performances, regaling crowds with lyrics such as, "On stilted platforms in the South Sea, (China's) five-starred red flag flaps in the wind, I've tasted all types of bitterness in the South Sea, (but) the people's happiness is my pride and glory."
Song, who once performed with Celine Dion on state television, was a big hit with the construction workers and naval officers who attended the shows, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The event was also recorded for broadcast by state-run CCTV.
"I was so excited for ... the troupe to come to the front-line islands," said Huang Tianjun, a member of the garrison atop Fiery Cross Reef, the largest of the newly minted islands constructed by heaping sand and cement atop a coral reef.
"We will most definitely hold fast here and defend every inch of the reef," Huang said.