A set of revised rules regarding military recruitment has been released by the State Council and the Central Military Commission (CMC) – the high command of the Chinese military headed by President Xi Jinping – aiming to provide institutional guarantees for consolidating national defence and building strong armed forces, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The new regulation, with 74 articles in 11 chapters, focuses on recruiting more high-calibre soldiers, standardising and optimising conscription procedures, and improving the system’s efficiency, it said in a brief report.
The new rules will come into effect next month.
The regulations said recruitment should “focus on preparing for war” and increase efficiency by calling up “high calibre” recruits, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
For the first time, a separate chapter on wartime recruitment has been included in the regulations, which state that ex-servicemen would be prioritised and expected to join their original units or similar positions.
The new rules were promulgated as Beijing is facing geopolitical tensions on several fronts, including in the South China Sea, especially in the Taiwan Strait, according to the report. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) broke new ground in its latest drill around Taiwan by testing its capacity to blockade the self-ruled island.
The three-day exercises which ended on Monday followed Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
China views Taiwan as a breakaway province. Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to reunify the self-ruled island with the mainland.
China views any official exchanges between foreign governments and Taiwan as an infringement on Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over the island.
Though the exercises ended, the PLA maintained a substantial presence in the Taiwan Strait, keeping Taipei on tenterhooks.
During a visit to the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command on Wednesday, President Xi stressed the importance of accelerating the transformation into a modern fighting force through “real combat-oriented exercises” and innovative warfare concepts.
He asked the military to resolutely defend China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and strive to maintain the overall stability of the neighbouring regions amid rising tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
Chinese and Indian troops are also locked in a nearly three-year confrontation in certain friction points in eastern Ladakh even as the two sides completed disengagement of troops from several areas following extensive diplomatic and military talks.
India has been maintaining that its ties with China cannot be normal unless there is peace in the border areas.
Explaining the addition of the “wartime recruitment” chapter to the military regulations, a CMC official said, “in order to ensure the normal replacement of troops and the supplementary needs of soldiers in wartime, the regulations refer to the common practices of various countries … and set up a special chapter to regulate the issue of wartime recruitment.”
Citizens who receive a recruitment notice during wartime must go to the designated place on time to enlist or face punishment, according to the regulations, the Post report said.
During wartime, the regulations say the State Council and the CMC may adjust recruitment conditions and methods “within the scope prescribed by law,” leaving space for further changes.
The amendment is part of consecutive efforts by Beijing to adjust and improve its legal system to better support wartime arrangements in the face of increasing geopolitical pressure, while at the same time exerting its military presence in the Taiwan Strait, the Post report said.
In February, Chinese lawmakers approved a resolution giving the military the power to change how the Criminal Procedure Law is applied during wartime, “to safeguard military missions and “improve [the PLA’s] ability to win in combat”.
Beijing-based military law expert Xie Dan said the amendment filled a gap in China’s wartime legislation, but was also driven by the need for military preparations, including against Taiwan.
“The Anti-Secession Law clarifies the conditions for resolving the Taiwan issue by non-peaceful means. Improving relevant military regulations is undoubtedly one of the important contents of current military preparations,” Xie told the Post.
China’s military laws – especially relating to wartime – have become “weak points” over the decades of peace since China was last involved in a war, he said.
In addition to its 2021 amendment to the military service law, Beijing also amended the Reservist Law in December to improve the development of reserve forces, which refers to the pre-assigned citizens who will become important components of the PLA during wartime.
According to Xie, the new recruitment regulations offer more operational and detailed rules for wartime mobilisation. The prioritisation of veterans was necessary because of their skills and experience in operating hi-tech weapons, he said.
The PLA recruitment is also focused on college students and graduates, especially those with science and engineering backgrounds, to fulfil Xi’s goal of building a world-class military by 2050.
Former PLA instructor Song Zhongping played down the implications of the regulation change for any possible military action by Beijing. The goal of the amendment was to “enhance the legalisation of recruitment work” as part of the military reforms, he told the Post.