PLA in restive western regions starts recruiting months early

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am

Military regions in restive western areas of the mainland have started recruitment campaigns months ahead of the normal enlistment season as the army prepares for tough security challenges this year.

Despite boasting the world's largest standing army with 2.3 million personnel, the People's Liberation Army is struggling to attract new blood as hard barracks life, low salaries and poor social status have deterred many young people.

Situations were particularly bad in underdeveloped western regions such as Tibet, sources familiar with the military said. The climate and social customs in Tibet or Xinjiang have made it extra hard to enlist new recruits.

In the wake of the recent riots and alleged attempted terrorist attacks in the two autonomous regions, the military has advanced the recruitment season to spring. Traditionally it started in autumn or winter, between August and December, they said.

The PLA is trimming its size to improve efficiency. But it is also looking for fresh young recruits with modern perspectives and skills. Local soldiers are particularly useful in keeping social order and stability because of their local networks and knowledge.

'Some areas have already started recruitment. In face of the problems we have in Xinjiang and Tibet, units [in these areas] need to strengthen their manpower,' a source said. 'But so far, the enlistment situations are not ideal. People are not willing to join the army because of the harsh conditions.'

The main attraction in joining the PLA is that the army will use its extensive network to help retired soldiers secure good jobs when they have completed their military service. Even so, many leave prematurely because they can not stand the spartan barracks life, a source said. Many Han Chinese soldiers cannot cope with living conditions on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau - the world's highest.

The authorities are worried that university campuses could be another flashpoint for unrest.

A source said the authorities had recently again raised food subsidies for university students by 40 per cent to keep campus food prices down in face of rampant inflation. '[The subsidies] will be kept in place until the end of the Olympics. The university students are struggling with inflation and unemployment. The government needs to stabilise the situation quickly.'

The student unrest in 1989 that rocked communist rule was triggered partly by rising prices at college canteens.

PLA power

China has the largest standing army in the world

The strength of the PLA's reserve force is about 1.5m

Source: Federation of American Scientists