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People's Liberation Army

China’s military mounts propaganda push as officers brace for demotions

Reductions in rank part of sweeping military reforms, including massive lay-offs, in an attempt to modernise and increase efficiency of armed forces

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:53pm

Learn from Senior Colonel Ma ­Baochuan is the new message from the military as it tries to prepare officers and troops alike for the next phase in a massive shake-up of the armed forces.

Ma, an officer who accepted demotion from political commissar in his division to a smaller brigade during military restructuring tin 2013, has been held up as a role model for other soldiers confronting reforms.

But analysts warned the military risked angering and demoralising troops facing lay-offs or cuts to their perks or rank.

The PLA Daily featured Ma’s case on Monday, saying he worked in high spirits despite being demoted from political commissar in a division affiliated to the 16th Army Corps under the former Shenyang Military Region.

The report said Ma’s was not an isolated case and more such demotions were expected. It cited instances of two other senior colonels who were demoted from division to brigade commanders in the same year.

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Ma said his experience would soon become the norm.

“I guess there will be more and more division commanders or political commissars being downgraded to brigade commanders or political commissars in the near future, ” the report quoted him as saying.

President Xi Jinping announced plans two years ago for the most extensive military ­reforms in the country in decades, including laying off 300,000 personnel from the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army.

The first phase of “above the neck” reforms involved streamlining the armed forces command structure as part of efforts to create a leaner and more efficient military.

These included restructuring seven military regions last year into five theatre commands: Central, North, South, East and West.

The second phase of “below the neck” reforms involve personnel and institutional changes within the military.

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Antony Wong Dong, a Macau-based veteran PLA watcher, said that despite propaganda efforts to prepare for such demotions, the morale of troops could suffer.

In the worst scenario, a military coup was possible if a large number of mid-ranking officers were demobilised without proper compensation or retirement packages, he said.

“Quite a number of division commanders have served several years ahead of becoming a senior colonel,” Wong said.

“They may be incensed when their hopes of being promoted to general are dashed.”

High-ranking officers were mainly affected in reforms last year and Wong said the changes championed by Xi might grow riskier when they affected the interests of many of mid-ranking ­officers.

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Zeng Zhiping, a military expert at the Nanchang Institute of ­Technology, said the second phase of reforms would inevitably be more difficult when they affected the vested interests of more troops.

He said many officers would have no choice in the matter.

“A division commander will lose his job, and hence his power, if he fails to get a promotion to army commander and refuses to be downgraded as a brigade head,” Zeng said

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