Because of China’s one-child policy, People’s Liberation Army officers recognize that many of its volunteers and conscripts have been spoiled by doting parents and need toughening up, according to a RAND Corp. report.
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 lengthy 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, a research organization, and one of seven authors of the report, which was released last week.
Newspapers published by the People’s Liberation Army 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. “While this is a weakness, it is not clear how much of a weakness,” Harold added.
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About 70 percent of the army’s soldiers come from one-child families, including about 80 percent of its combat troops, Maj. Gen. Liu Mingfu, a professor at the National Defense University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview.
Even President Xi Jinping, who as chairman of the Central Military Commission is the head of the People’s Liberation Army, 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 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 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body created by Congress in 2000 to study the strategic relationship between the United States and China. The task was to look at the People’s Liberation Army’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, the report said, including insufficient strategic airlift abilities, a limited number of special mission aircraft and deficiencies in anti-submarine warfare.
“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 U.S. 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,” lamented one article cited in the report.
The report makes it clear that the People’s Liberation Army has had trouble attracting first-rate recruits not only because of easier lifestyles but also because of higher salaries in the civilian economy. Starting pay for a recruit might be well below 1,000 renminbi a month, or about $160, even as low perhaps as 600 renminbi, said Dennis J. Blasko, a former military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the author of the “The Chinese Army Today.”
In December, as part of his anticorruption drive, Xi said that soldiers would have to learn to live on their salaries — a painful requirement if military pay is not raised.