New restrictions on using military licence plates on luxury cars came into effect in the mainland on Wednesday - prompting an immediate wave of furious microblog posts exposing vehicles still bearing them.
The Ministry of Defence announced last month a ban on military licence plates on vehicles priced higher than 450,000 yuan (HK$566,750). At least 11 brands or models were blacklisted along with vehicles with engines larger than 3.0 litres.
Under a new registration system, all military vehicles must be issued new car plates, and blacklisted sedans include those made by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac, Bentley, Jaguar and Porsche, as well as the Volkswagen Phaeton, according to the ministry website.
One photo circulating on Sina Weibo showed a black Audi Q7 SUV in Guangzhou bearing military licence plates. The ban includes no specific limit on the price of SUVs or their engines, but the Q7, along with Land Rover and Porsche Cayenne are specifically listed on the list.
“The driver was a 20-something-year-old guy wearing military uniform. They made such a dramatic announcement [of the ban], but in the end it is all just talk!” the blogger said.
Photos of at least two Volkswagen Touareg SUVs in Beijing caught flouting the new rule were circulating on the blogosphere on Wednesday. The starting price for a Touareg - including tax - ranges between 645,000 yuan for a basic model and 1.1 million yuan for one with more advanced specifications.
An official from the Beijing-based Military Traffic Department’s logistics branch told the Wen Wei Po newspaper on Thursday that Volkswagen's Touareg was not included in the list of banned vehicles.
Vehicles with military plates are allowed to run red lights, drive in emergency lanes and avoid road tolls, among some other privileges. The licence plates are typically red or black text on white background, compared to white text on blue background for civilians.
President Xi Jinping has urged the military to be more disciplined and to clean up its public image. In a recent editorial, the People’s Liberation Army Daily - the PLA's own mouthpiece - said the issuance of new license plates would symbolise a “new start” for the military's public image.