- - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

China military recruitment

On Nov. 1, China began its nationwide recruitment season for the world’s largest military, the 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army. Although China’s conscription system is compulsory by law, with an estimated 400 million males eligible for military service, the de facto practice is recruitment of volunteers.

In recent years, China’s conscription system has run into a series of problems that reflect the communist state’s dire political and social realities. A recent survey by PLA military scholars at China’s National Defense University indicates more than 80 percent of current combat troops were born to one-child families. This worries the PLA high command because fewer families are willing to send their children to face possible death in the military and opting instead for more attractive career paths such as getting college degrees and working in civilian sectors.

Moreover, an alarming number of social protests and violent regional clashes are organized by demobilized military veterans demanding fair benefits and post-military employment opportunities.

To address these issues, the Chinese Defense Ministry on Oct. 26 announced a sweeping set of amendments to current military conscription laws. The measure was swiftly passed Saturday by China’s rubber-stamp legislature and became effective immediately.

The updated law provides substantial financial and career-enhancing incentives for college students to join the military.

The most pronounced part of the updated law, however, is the dramatic increase in mandated benefits for active duty and especially demobilized personnel of the PLA, including guaranteed state employment after 12 years of active service; preferential treatment in job applications; pension, retirement and health care plans; leave time; continuing education, and mandatory counting of service years as employment time in the civilian sector.

Overall, it was a sweetheart deal for China’s rapidly growing military.

Mongols eye Europe again

Mongolia is a landlocked country encircled by two neighbors — China and Russia. Now the quintessentially Asian democracy is feeling increasingly uncomfortable with this geostrategic reality and actively seeking what it calls a “third neighbor.”

On Monday, a senior Mongolian government official announced that his country finally has found such a third neighbor, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a predominantly Eurocentric military and security-centered intergovernmental organization. All of OSCE’s 56 member states are European countries with a few former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

The OSCE chief, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, confirmed Friday that Gombojav Zandanshatar, Mongolia’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, formally requested to join OSCE as a full member state.

Promising to send an OSCE official delegation to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator soon, Mr. Azubalis stated that the OSCE is determined to fulfill its commitment to building security and stability and respect for human rights “in the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”

Launched in the early 1970s as a Cold War era arms-control and human rights organization, OSCE consistently drew the displeasure of the Soviet Union and later Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin views the OSCE as a prime instigator behind the recent Orange Revolution that rocked several former Soviet republics.

Mongolia has had complicated relationships with its giant, and often imperial, neighbors. It was considered part of China until it became the first Soviet satellite state in 1924.

Mongolia became an independent democracy after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. With its past ties to China, a country that is increasingly militant of late, especially with recent ethnic unrest in China’s adjacent Inner Mongolia region, Ulan Bator clearly is working on a national security contingency plan, mindful of the ancient Chinese military wisdom, “befriend distant states while attacking those nearby.”

Shenzhou-8 launched

On Tuesday, a Long March CZ-2F rocket carrying China’s unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 was launched into space from western China. The spacecraft is set to rendezvous with a Chinese experimental mini-space-station called Tiangong-1 [Heavenly Palace-1] launched a month ago.

The primary mission of this military-run space program is to practice space docking skills.

China has launched an ambitious space program that seeks to replace the United States and Russia as the only nation that will have an active space program after the jointly operated International Space Station retires, roughly scheduled for 2015.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.