China’s military plans new system for officers’ ranks

Next phase of PLA reforms will see greater emphasis on rank and a fairer hierarchy, as nation seeks to develop professional officer class

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 7:02am

The so-called second step of military reforms will include harmonising officers’ ranks with their place in the hierarchy, state media reported over the weekend, citing PLA researchers and officials from the military’s headquarters.

Developing a professional officer class for the PLA has been high on the reform agenda for President Xi Jinping. But details on the reform had been scarce until last month, when the national legislature suspended the relevant defence laws to facilitate changes to the system for officers.

In an interview published on Sunday by People’s Daily, Cai Shichuan, a researcher with National Defence University, said parallel hierarchies of ranks and job positions had created confusion and unfairness for officers.

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According to Cai, a certain rank of officer is often eligible for several different grades of job, leading to cases where a lower-ranking officer is the superior of a higher-ranking one.

“[The new system] will implement one rank for only one job position,” Cai said.

A related report by China Newsweek, affiliated with the official China News Service, said that under the current system, a senior colonel could be a deputy corps commander and become the boss of a major-general who happened to lead a division.

Meanwhile, an uneven promotion path between combat units and their supporting military departments did not help nurture combat commanders, according to Cai.

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He said officers’ salaries and benefits were determined by their position within a 15-grade administrative structure, and that those who served in supporting departments usually got promoted faster than those on the front line.

“This has weakened the importance of the rank structure … and downplayed the role of the officers in combat commands,” he said.

Zhang Yang, a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the head of its Political Work Department, said China hoped to modernise the People’s Liberation Army by building a system centred on ranks, reported Xinhua.

Zhang said an officer’s rank was to become the main indicator of his or her capabilities and status, and that officers’ career development would be based on their rank instead of their grade.

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“The current military policy and structure still lag behind in terms of a lack of discipline in personnel training, a lack of focus on the core strength of the military, and loopholes in the selection and appointment system,” said Ou Jianping, a senior analyst at National Defence University, in an interview with People’s Daily.

Citing anonymous sources with the CMC General Office and Joint Staff Department, China Newsweek said the reforms would also include making the retirement ages for officers more flexible, to help retain experienced personnel.