US to study Chinese military's recruitment to assess battle readiness

·3 min read

The US is commissioning a study of China's military recruitment, including identifying its weaknesses, to assess how confident the country is in its capacity to carry out missions.

The US Congress' website has invited tenders to compile a report for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) about the demographics of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and issues involved in its personnel recruitment and retention.

It said the top priority was to establish what Chinese leaders considered the most significant shortfalls in PLA personnel quality, and how this affected their confidence in the PLA's ability to execute missions.

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"Do Chinese leaders perceive variation in personnel quality between the PLA [ground forces], PLA Navy, PLA Air Force and other services?" the bidding document said.

"Where have the PLA's recruitment and retention efforts fallen short? Assess the extent to which the different PLA services have met their goals for recruiting college graduates."

Other questions that the report is tasked with answering include what the key personnel challenges are and how well the PLA is addressing them; what types of education or expertise the PLA values most and how well it is finding them; and how effectively its hybrid recruitment system of conscription and volunteering is working.

Parties bidding to write the report have been asked to include information on the terms under which personnel are recruited - covering monetary aspects, accommodation and rules on marriage - and any effect that China's urban-rural divide or other socioeconomic factors may be having.

The influence of the PLA's political commissar system - rarely if ever used in other countries' militaries - is also within the remit of the report.

The post of political commissar, invented during the French Revolution and developed by the Soviet army, was introduced to the Chinese Communist Party's armed forces in its founding years and remains a key instrument to ensure the party's control of the military. The PLA has political commissars from theatre command to company level, serving as dual leaders alongside unit commanders.

The US tender falls under Congress' mandate to investigate "the military plans, strategy and doctrine of [China], the structure and organisation of the [Chinese] military, the decision-making process of [its] military ... and the implications of such objectives and trends for the national security of the United States".

The proposed report effectively involves recruiting spies to gather Chinese military intelligence, according to Chinese military observers.

"It's a very low-level means to get information," said Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing. "The only and best way for the US to better understand the PLA is to try to improve communication with their Chinese counterparts."

China's long battle to build a better soldier for a modern fighting force

Military commentator and former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said the proposed study's approach was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"The US has used a tremendous amount of resources and encouraged its allies to collect all kinds of intelligence about the PLA," Song said.

"But that method of buying information via a scattergun approach is not only inefficient and unreliable but may also put contractors at risk of leaking Chinese state secrets."

Song added that the USCC's announcement would only push China to further tighten its control over military information at home and overseas.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.