Chinese border troops likely to benefit from new rules to end unfair treatment

Minnie Chan
·4-min read

China is expected to send more resources to troops stationed in remote border areas, including those engaged in the current stand-off with India in the Himalayas, following an overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army’s rules on how officers are treated.

A commentary published on Sunday by PLA Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s military, said the new regulations were aimed at maintaining officers’ “basic living benefits” and establishing a better management system for career development.

President Xi Jinping, who also chairs the all-powerful Central Military Commission, introduced the “Provisional Regulations on the Movement of Active Military Officers” on the first day of this year, along with a series of related rules covering areas such as selection, training and promotion.

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Military observers said the reforms might help eliminate long-standing problems that meant officers stationed in certain areas, such as the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, were given more favourable treatment and better equipment compared with those in remote parts of the country.

“There are some unfair traditions and discriminatory legacies left over from political struggles in previous decades,” Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Tong said, referring to the different treatment officials and officers in the Central, Eastern and Southeast military areas had received.

For example, some officers with close connections with top leaders get promoted more quickly than their peers stationed in the remote and tough areas in the Himalayas, Wong added.

“Indeed, before the outbreak of the months-long border stand-off between China and India, weapon systems deployed to the 77th Army Group in the Western Theatre Command were inferior to those given to the 72nd Army Group in the Eastern Theatre Command, which is responsible for Taiwan Strait security,” Wong said.

“It’s just because the Huzhou-based 72nd Army Group in Zhejiang province has close links with Xi, while many officials in the 77th Army Groups were promoted by Xi’s political enemies Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou.”

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Guo and Xu, both former vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, became the most senior military officials brought down by Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

Guo received a life sentence in 2016, while Xu died in custody in 2015 while under investigation.

Weapons in the Western Theatre Command have been upgraded as tensions with India rose following a deadly clash between the two sides in the Galwan Valley in June. Both sides have also increased the number of troops stationed along their disputed frontier after the incident, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead and caused an unknown number of PLA casualties.

Besides replacing the J-7 fighters in the region with more advanced J-16s, other advanced weapons – including J-20 stealth fighters, H-20 helicopters, drones and rockets – have undergone high-altitude tests, suggesting they have been earmarked for the Western Theatre Command.

Recent footage aired by the state broadcaster China Central Television also showed that troops in the Tibetan military region had been equipped with the latest camouflage uniforms known as the “Starry Sky” pattern.

The PLA commentary said the new regulations were designed to build a system that guaranteed hardworking and responsible officers on the front line were treated fairly to ensure the army could attract and retain high-quality troops.

“Under the new provisional regulations that directly link with officers’ promotion and treatment, assessment standards will more focus on combat-forces and troops stationed in tough and remote border areas,” the commentary wrote.

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A military source close to the PLA said the military, which now numbers around two million troops, has been fighting a brain drain for more than four decades.

“The implementation of the new regulations is a good effort, because political loyalty tests, personal background and connections are still the most important elements for military officers to get promotion, not just their talents,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

The source also stressed that the Communist Party’s rule that the “party commands the gun” still applied, adding: “That’s why the CMC needs to introduce more than 10 relevant rules and specific implementation details for the new regulations.”

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