BEIJING has taken a small step towards promoting the 'rule of law' in the military by propagating legal education in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Xinhua (the New China News Agency) reported yesterday that a legal bureau was set up under the General Political Department of the PLA in September 1992. Legal advisory offices have been established in 'major units' of the PLA, while a specialist legal secretary is assigned to each army-level department. Xinhua quoted officials from the legal bureau as saying there were now nearly 100 legal advisory offices and 38,000 'legal counselling staff' among the ranks. Nearly 1,000 officers and soldiers have sat examinations of the Justice Ministry and qualified as lawyers. Xinhua said since the establishment of the legal system, PLA lawyers had undertaken 320 cases. They played a key role in arbitrating over or resolving disputes between army units and civilian authorities. Chinese military analysts said, however, it was not clear whether the campaign to popularise legal knowledge meant that, like other government institutions, the PLA would be put under the jurisdiction of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the law courts. Since the 1920s, the Red Army, and later the PLA, have enjoyed a status described as 'a state within a state'. The analysts said it was noteworthy that the decision to set up a legal bureau was made by the Central Military Commission (CMC), the PLA's highest authority. The CMC and the PLA's Commission for Disciplinary Inspection are outside the purview of civilian bodies like the NPC. In spite of the promotion of a sense of the rule of law, many criminal cases involving military personnel continue to be handled by military investigation and adjudication tribunals.