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The People’s Liberation Army will give the public a glimpse behind the scenes of the world’s largest military force in the latest bid to improve its image. Some PLA barracks are to hold open days during national holidays, giving the public a taste of army training and weapons, according to a new directive that took effect at the end of last month but was announced by the Central Military Commission (CMC) on Thursday.

But only Chinese citizens will be allowed – no foreigners will be given access unless they have special permission, the directive said. And only certain barracks approved by the CMC will be open to the public. Anyone who wants to attend an open day will have to apply and undergo strict security checks before and after the visit.

With some 2.3 million troops, China has the world’s biggest army, but its military sites have long been off limits to the public.

Only recently, in 2013, did people in Guangzhou and Shanghai get the chance to tour the cities’ military barracks for the first time.

But in Hong Kong and Macau, the PLA has regularly opened its garrisons to the public since their handovers to China, in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

Beijing also sent the country’s first aircraft carrier to Hong Kong in July in a bid to engage the public – and demonstrate its military might – in a five-day port call to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover. More than 4,000 Hongkongers boarded the aircraft carrier while another 40,000 visited two destroyers and a frigate docked at the naval base on Stonecutters Island.

The latest public relations effort could see the Liaoning, and the PLA Navy’s most advanced guided-missile destroyer, open for tours by mainland Chinese. Ni Lexiong, a military expert based in Shanghai, said the PLA’s decision to hold open days was in line with international practices.

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