China this week announced a tough new regulation, effective Thursday, that specifies severe prosecution and punishment for military personnel who commit any of 31 types of criminal acts.
The rule covers active duty, civilian employees and reservists of the People's Liberation Army, especially when China is at war.
The "Provisions on Standards for Filing Criminal Cases of Violating Duty by Military Personnel for Investigation and Prosecution" was issued jointly by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's highest prosecutorial authority, and the army's General Political Department, which is in charge of the ideological indoctrination and internal military discipline.
The new regulation is unusual for its comprehensive and detailed list of military crimes: Article 4 prohibits surrender in combat. Article 6 punishes a soldier for missing 10 bullets, or 30 bomb detonators, or 100 feet of fuse line, or any act leading to economic loss worth more than $48,000, as well as "cowardice and being slow on trigger in combat."
A large portion of the listed crimes relates to the misuse, theft and trade of military equipment and weapons for economic gain.
But the focus of the new regulation is to define what constitutes treason and defection for active-duty troops and civilian support staff.
Articles 11 to 15 provide a long list of these treasonous acts, including carrying out defection due to objections to the national government and socialism, issuing open statements announcing defection to an enemy country, applying for political asylum, delaying return to China while possessing military secrets, joining a reactionary foreign agency or organization, fleeing to a combat zone controlled by the enemy, distributing the defense budget, and illegally obtaining military secrets such as combat plans and defense research projects.
Promulgation of the new regulation marks another sign that China is getting ready for general war, as the overall propaganda machine has been doing for the past several months: Most of the punishable crimes in the document are specified and conditioned as taking place under a "wartime situation," and the regulation reads like a pre-war clarification of military discipline and conduct code.
China has been stepping up its military posture toward Japan and several Southeast Asian states in recent weeks over maritime boundary disputes.
Its Communist Party-controlled press has frequently designated the United States as the ultimate enemy.
Japan to give fishing rights to Taiwan
In a dramatic about-face, Japan recently conceded to Taiwan a key maritime right near the hotly contested Senkaku island chain, known in Taiwan as Diaoyutai, according to Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lin.
Until a little more than a month ago, Taiwanese fishing boats sailing around these Japanese-controlled islands were chased away by Japanese coast guard vessels firing deck-mounted water cannons.
Both Taiwan and China are challenging Japan's hold on the Senkakus, with the Chinese being far more brazen and belligerent.
The waters around the uninhabited islands are believed to contain large undersea gas and oil deposits.
Japan guards the Senkakus and its nearby waters with utmost seriousness. Tokyo regards the islands as integral to the legitimacy of Japan's post-World War II existence as arranged by the international community and protected by a strong Japan-U.S. defense alliance.
For Taiwan, the issue is more political than economic. The United States managed the Senkaku islands until 1972, when Washington returned "administrative control" to the Japanese.
Taiwan felt betrayed, but the Richard M. Nixon administration was eyeing larger strategic moves with China and was willing to sacrifice its traditional ally Taiwan. Nixon's initiative started a trend that landed him in Beijing in 1972 and led Washington to abandon Taipei diplomatically and recognize Beijing.
Thus for the Taiwanese, the adamant stance on the Senkakus contains a strong element of restoring international legitimacy and its pre-1972 status as a globally recognized sovereign state.
Japan's action was viewed by China as an attempt to warm ties with Taipei while isolating Beijing: The concession on fishing rights was granted to Taiwan but not China.
While Japan's concession does not identify a clearly designated area where Taiwanese fishing vessels are permitted to operate, it is an important step toward closer Taiwan-Japan relations.
Miles Yu's column appears Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com and @yu_miles.