Page 1 of 2 China, Taiwan volunteer armies part ways
By Kevin McCauley
Recent developments have shown the volunteer recruitment systems in Taiwan and China moving on decidedly different trajectories. The Taiwan military’s attempt to implement a volunteer transition fully by the end of 2015, which already faced serious problems, appears to be in jeopardy after the death of 24-year-old Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu from a heatstroke following extensive drills while in disciplinary detention.
In addition, a short training period for new conscripts will contribute, along with limited joint and combined arms training, to declining operational readiness. A military with decreasing operational readiness and capabilities will be unable to execute a deterrence or defense strategy, weaken Taipei's position in
dealing with Beijing and force a reliance on the US military for the defense of Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the PLA has taken an incremental approach to the transition to an all-volunteer force. Noncommissioned officer (NCO) reform, resulting in the expansion and qualitative improvement of the NCO force, combined with an active program to recruit qualified personnel, with an emphasis on college students and graduates, has increased the quantity and quality of volunteer personnel in the PLA. These programs to enhance military talent are important to PLA modernization efforts to build a high-tech force, which in turn would support a coercive strategy or diverse military operations in a crisis.
Taiwan's volunteer program
Public recriminations continue against the military over Hung's death, placing Taiwan's ability to recruit a volunteer force in doubt. A crowd of 30,000 in Taipei on July 20 protested outside of the Ministry of National Defense (MND), while a larger protest held on August 3 in Taipei drew a crowd variously estimated at 100-250,000.
Furthermore, 18 officers and noncommissioned officers have been indicted and defense minister Kao Hua-chu resigned over the case.
The results of a Taiwan public opinion poll released in late July showed that respondents did not trust the military judiciary to investigate and prosecute military personnel in the Hung case. The poll also showed that 74.7% of respondents viewed the Taiwanese military as "unfit to fight a war," providing evidence of the military's low credibility among Taiwanese civilians.
This widespread lack of confidence in the military does not bode well for the future of a force whose capabilities appeared to be in decline even before the uproar over Hung's death.
While military reforms are occurring, it is not likely that indictments of a number of officers or military reforms can easily counter the impact of Hung's death on public opinion. Colonel Hu Zhong-shi, director of the Recruitment Center of the National Armed Forces, admitted at a press conference that "the Hung case will surely have negative impacts on the plan".
Even before the uproar over Hung's death, the volunteer plan appeared to be having serious trouble with both the quantity and the quality of its recruits. Colonel Hu reported on August 19 that only 72% of the 2012 recruitment goal had been met, and that only 4,290 personnel had been recruited out of the 2013 goal of 28,531.
The MND announced on August 19 that it will loosen requirements, place greater emphasis on recruiting women and work to promote recruitment (Central News Agency, August 20). It is doubtful these measures will fill the recruitment gap without an increased defense budget to provide improve pay and benefits.
The PLA's move to a volunteer force
The PLA has taken a slower, steadier approach to its move towards a volunteer force. It has recently placed greater emphasis on recruiting college students and graduates, and has initiated links with civilian universities and military educational institutes to train select students for eventual service in the PLA. These efforts, along with NCO reforms and expansion, are furthering the transition to a volunteer force.
Historically, conscription was the mainstay of PLA recruitment. Conscription began on November 1 each year, preceded by registration starting on September 30. Demobilization of soldiers would often occur in December, with transportation of some demobilized soldiers beginning in late November. The influx of untrained new conscripts and release of soldiers would result in a sharp decrease in unit operational readiness and impact training.
The PLA began transitioning away from compulsory service in 1998 with the recognition that high quality personnel were required to support modernization. A key component in the move to a volunteer force has been the reform and expansion of the NCO corps, begun in 1999 to provide greater stability to the military with long-term skilled personnel.
The PLA began to move away from compulsory service in 1998, when the words "based on the compulsory service system as the main body" were deleted from the Military Service Law. The compulsory service period was shortened to two years, and the active service system for voluntary servicemen and the reserve service system were reformed.
Additional changes have included the following:
In 2009, recruitment standards for women were changed to include raising the maximum age requirements for various categories in order to recruit more highly qualified and educated women.
In 2011, physical restrictions were relaxed on tattoos and pierced ears, and height requirements for women were lowered, aided by the development of standardized medical and psychological screening system for the PLA.
Also in 2011, an online registration and pre-recruiting system aimed at high school graduates and college students was established, and inducements for students were strengthened, including tuition compensation, payments of government subsidized student loans and compensatory payments for qualified college graduates.
The National People's Congress in 2011 also removed limits on the registration of urban youth, abolished recruitment deferrals for full-time students was abolished, and allowed college graduates with excellent military service to be promoted directly to serve as active-duty officers. Furthermore, college students enlisting for active duty could resume their studies within two years of demobilization, the recruitment age for college graduates was raised to 24 years, and the registration period (but not the conscription period) was moved from September 30 to June 30.
Recruiting quality students
The PLA began recruiting college graduates in 2001, with more than 130,000 college graduates serving as soldiers at the end of 2009. From 2009 to 2012, approximately 100,000 college students joined the military each year. This represents perhaps a quarter to a third of all recruits, by this author's rough estimate.
The current emphasis is on increasing quality personnel by focusing on recruitment of college students and graduates. The State Council and CMC recently moved the start of the intake period to August 1, synchronizing it with the graduation period in order to attract qualified graduates, while limiting the numbers of secondary school students recruited.
The previous November 1 start date resulted in missed opportunities to recruit the most qualified college graduates, due to the time lag. For example, one survey showed that in 2012 approximately 90% of university graduates had found work before the winter intake period, limiting the number of quality personnel available for PLA recruitment. The change to an earlier recruitment period will also lessen the drop in PLA unit combat readiness, as it allows for basic training of new recruits before the annual demobilization of personnel at the end of the year.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) began receiving applications in June through an online website. Major cities focused on recruiting college students employing mobilization and propaganda campaigns. MND officials stated that college students will enjoy advantages in registration, admission and recruitment.
The PLA Daily reports active recruitment drives throughout China, with various locations reporting increased college applicants over previous years. For example, Shanghai began military service registration on June 1, with over 300 military service registration stations set up at colleges and universities, while Beijing began recruiting college students on June 15, including activities with China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, to attract prospects.
The PLA has enhanced its propaganda and mobilization campaign this year, including online social networking programs, aimed at attracting college students and graduates away from potential business recruiters .The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced on August 21 that over 200,000 college students had taken part in pre-conscription registration in large and medium cities.