Attrition: China Thins The Thundering Herd

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September 24, 2015: As China began celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in early September 2015 the national leadership made it clear that the reforms of the military were accelerating It was mentioned that the Chinese military would lose another 300,000 personnel. This sort of thing is nothing new as in 2009 Chinese leaders spoke of cutting 700,000 troops by 2012 so that more money could be spent on upgrading the navy and air force. The Chinese armed forces has already shrunk by nearly two million troops in the last twenty years, and now consists of about two million active duty personnel. With the latest cuts that will mean a Chinese force of only 1.7 million troops, which is (not much larger than the 1.2 million American troops.) This is believed to be part of a larger reorganization of the Chinese military. This will involve eliminating a lot of headquarters (and jobs for senior officers) and improving the efficiency of the military. The primacy of the army, a tradition that goes back thousands of years, will be eroded by the growing size and power of the air force and navy. Currently, the navy has 290,000 personnel, and the air force 400,000. The navy is adding people to crew the new warships, while the air force may lose a few because of retirements among the large number of obsolete aircraft still in service. The army will lose a lot of infantry, and unneeded headquarters. And everyone in the military will have to be smarter, more educated and better at their jobs, if they want to stay in uniform.

As the military has shrunk over the last decade, most of those laid off have been officers. Most of the shrinkage itself came from simply not enlisting a lot of new recruits. Meanwhile, older, and less educated officers are being retired, and new, better educated ones, sought among the ranks of recent college graduates. The military used to rely a lot on enlisted troops becoming officers, via selection and a few months training. No more. With 20 percent of Chinese 18 year olds going to college, there is an opportunity to quickly upgrade the officer corps (at least in terms of formal education.)

Over 20 percent of Chinese military personnel are conscripts. That's usually at least 500,000 men. They serve for two years, with each years class of conscripts inducted in the Fall. Only about 250,000 conscripts are inducted each year, and nearly all of these tend to be volunteers. That's because only about four percent of each years crop of 18 year old males is needed. How do they decide who to take? Naturally ever service tries to get the most physically, psychologically and educationally fit for military life. To that end, the military has been administering tests to draftees for about a decade now. If you're not literate (over 90 percent of Chinese are), they don't want you. But the better educated 18 year olds don't want to go into the military, not with that booming economy out there. Most of these lads bribe their way out, or simply rely on there being enough qualified volunteers to satisfy the recruiting officials.

A lot of young men who don't have much education, do want to get into the military. For one thing, it's a job, and there are opportunities for education and advancement. The military tried to identify the more capable among these poor, uneducated young men, so they can be taken into service. That's because too many of the best young men aren't willing, or don't have to, serve. Those who have been accepted by a university are automatically exempt, as are those with a criminal record. Drug addicts, the physically or mentally infirm and anyone who just doesn't seem right to the examiners, is exempt from conscription. And for many of those who are perfect, there are numerous officials willing to take a bribe, and get you off the list.

 The work of deciding who actually gets drafted is done by thousands of draft boards, or, as the Chinese call them People's Armed Forces Departments (PAFD). Each is assigned a quota, based on how many 18 years old are coming of age in a town or city neighborhood. Since these locations vary greatly in the wealth and educational levels of the inhabitants, some PAFDs have an easy time of it, while others have to struggle to meet their quota. In some wealthy PAFDs, hardly anyone wants to go, and some interesting soap operas ensue. In less wealthy PAFDs, bribes will be paid to get some kids in. Not large bribes, but you get the picture. In the late 1990s, the operation of the PAFDs was turned over to the military, in an attempt to reduce the corruption, and insure that the best quality recruits were obtained. This was partially successful but in the meantime the government is improving the quality of military personnel via the more direct route; retiring or firing the least capable.

 

 


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