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How China's PLA is changing...

By JAYADEVA RANADE
Last updated on: February 03, 2021 09:42 IST
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A new military rank system had been introduced for the PLA, but all soldiers must always obey the Communist party, reveals Jayadeva Ranade, the distinguished China expert and retired RA&W officer.

IMAGE: People's Liberation Army soldiers in Beijing. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters
 

China has been actively engaged in the process of reorganising, restructuring and streamlining the People's Liberation Army since late 2015.

Since late last year there have been a number of important announcements and regulations concerning the PLA.

These have included the predictable emphasis on the PLA's 'absolute obedience' to the Chinese Comunist party.

In 2016, China had said it will have a rank-centered military officer system which will indicate the officer's rank, seniority and status.

The PLA discarded ranks in 1965, but reintroduced them in 1988.

Reports have been circulating since late last year that the rank structure is being revised to bring the PLA more in line with international practice.

The process received a fillip when Colonel Wu Qian, spokesman for China's ministry of national defence, made the important announcement on January 29, 2021, that a new military rank system had been introduced for the PLA.

The new rank system will do away with the Grade system that has been in force in the PLA till now and was actually a more important indicator of the officer's career path than the military rank!

The new rank system would partially meet one of the requirements stipulated at the fifth plenary session of the 19th central committee of the Chinese Communist party.

The Fifth Plenum, which had advanced the date for the PLA completing its modernisation from 2049 to 2027, had listed 'military personnel modernisation' as one of the four modernisations that the PLA needs to achieve by 2027.

Making the announcement at a regular press conference in Beijing on January 29, Colonel Wu Qian said the new system comprises 'three levels of ten titles'.

He clarified that the three levels in the Command stream divide officers into ten ranks: General-level officers into General, Lieutenant General and Major General; Colonel-level officers into Senior Colonel, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel and Major; and Lieutenant-level officers into Captain, Lieutenant, and Second Lieutenant.

Speculation that the rank of Senior Colonel would be replaced with that of Brigadier has not materialised.

Posts in the PLA have been broadly divided into two categories -- Command Posts and Professional and Technical Posts.

Command Posts are divided into three groups based on the nature of duties, namely, Military position such as Commander and Political position such as Political Commissar or Director of the Political Department.

Staff positions like Chief of Staff come under the category of Command Posts as do the positions of Director of the Logistics or Equipment departments.

Professional and Technical Posts in the PLA are divided into five categories -- Academics, Science and Research, Engineering Technology, Medical Services and Specialised Areas.

The new system also introduces a change in policy for military officers who earn degrees while in service.

Colonel Wu said that the rank of Second Lieutenant will be granted to officers who earn undergraduate degrees and, upon graduation, to direct-study graduate officers.

Officers who obtain a Master's degree or a Doctorate will be promoted to the military rank of Lieutenant and Captain respectively.

Corresponding military ranks will be awarded to the directly recruited officers.

In addition to the Command stream, the new rank system applies also to the professional and technical officers.

They are divided into four positions, namely high-level, deputy high-level, middle-level, and junior-level positions.

The new rules stipulate that military ranks awarded to Specialists recruited locally as military officers, will be commensurate with their academic degree, work experience, professional ability and position.

Officers working in the same, or similar, conditions in the PLA shall be awarded equivalent military ranks.

IMAGE: PLA troops march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Colonel Wu clarified too that the new officer ranking system includes three aspects, namely the rank, post-position hierarchy and treatment level.

The military rank is now the dominant factor that will determine the promotions and appointment of officers and leadership and command relations.

The Grade structure that till now used to determine promotions and appointments -- also called post-position hierarchy -- is no longer relevant.

The post-position hierarchy refers to the 15 positions that PLA officers occupy ranging from Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission down to the platoon level.

Till now officers were often appointed to positions based on their Grade rank and not military rank.

Resultantly, an officer holding a lesser military rank could often hold a higher post than an officer holding a senior military rank.

The treatment level, or entitlements and perquisites, refers to the basic living conditions of officers.

This is based on the rank held by the officer and has 19 levels and includes salary, housing, medical treatment, insurance and other basic living allowances.

In addition to its streamlining, emphasis on modernisation of the PLA and improving its capabilities is visibly underway.

Particularly pronounced are the exhortations for training under realistic battle conditions and the PLA's 'absolute' obedience to the Communist party.

Jayadeva Ranade, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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