Thu, Feb 19, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Coddled recruits hindering China’s army, report says

NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Many armies have trouble molding capable soldiers from fresh-out-of-school 18-year-olds — but China, which is no exception, has a particular problem: pampered recruits.

Senior officers in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recognize that many of its volunteers and conscripts, as a result of China’s one child policy, have been spoiled by doting parents and need toughening up, according to a report by RAND Corp on the modernization of the army.

“After 30 years of the one child policy, kids come into the army who are used to being coddled and the apple of their parents’ eyes,” said Scott Harold, deputy director of the Center for Asia Pacific Policy at RAND and one of seven authors of the report, which was released last week.

Newspapers published by the PLA have carried reports about half of the young men in a unit breaking down in tears and many wanting to drop out, Harold said. Some were reported to have broken the rules by sending texts to their girlfriends.

About 70 percent of the army’s soldiers come from one-child families, including about 80 percent of its combat troops, Major General Liu Mingfu (劉明福), a professor at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview.

Even Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has alluded to a lack of sufficiently hardened soldiers.

“We must not make our soldiers soft during the peace era,” he said last month, according to a report in the PLA Daily, published by the Chinese army. “The mighty troops have to be mighty. Soldiers must have guts and courage.”

The RAND report, titled “China’s Incomplete Military Transformation,” is unusual because it focuses on the army’s weaknesses.

The idea for the report came from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body created by the US Congress in 2000 to study the strategic relationship between Washington and Beijing. The task was to look at the PLA’s shortcomings to better understand what Chinese commanders needed to improve.

China’s army has not fought a war since 1979, when it performed miserably against its neighbor Vietnam in a short, extremely bloody battle. Combat weaknesses persist, including insufficient strategic airlift abilities, a limited number of special mission aircraft and deficiencies in anti-submarine warfare, the report said.

“Knowing the weaknesses — and particularly what PLA officers themselves see as the most important shortcomings — is critical to understanding what areas the PLA will emphasize as it continues to modernize,” said Michael Chase, a senior political scientist at RAND and one of the report’s authors. “We are not trying to say the PLA is unprofessional, nor are we trying to say there is nothing for people in the US and other countries to worry about.”

The weaknesses in personnel and training cataloged by RAND are not usually talked about in public. The report found quite a bit of candor buried in the newspapers published by the commands of China’s seven military regions.

“The overall level of talented personnel in our army does not meet the requirement for fulfilling its historic mission in the new century,” one article cited in the report said.

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