WUKONG Drivers with a license to kill in
China By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - The history of China is one in
which one dynasty is overthrown by force and
replaced by another. Hence one of Mao Zedong's
best know quotations: "Power comes from the barrel
of a gun." So historically, the legitimacy of the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to rule the country
could be justified by the fact that it seized
power by force.
Mao's Red Army, or the
People's Liberation Army (PLA) as it was later
renamed, was the key to the CCP's success in
under the Heaven" by fighting
wars "on horseback". And after the founding of the
People's Republic, the CCP continues to rely on
the PLA to safeguard and consolidate its rule.
Given their special status, the Chinese armed
forces, now the PLA and the People's Armed Police
(PAP) that was split from the PLA, enjoy certain
privileges in society.
One such privilege
is that military vehicles enjoy special treatment
on highways across the country. License plates of
all PLA and PAP motor vehicles are white (plates
of civilian cars are blue and trucks yellow, while
those of vehicles driven by foreigners or overseas
investors are black).
are not under the jurisdiction of traffic police.
They can run a red light without being stopped.
They do not need to pay toll fees on express
highways or bridges or tunnels. All toll
collection points must open a toll-free pass for
military vehicles. They can park in any public
parking place without paying fees.
understood that such special arrangements are
granted to facilitate military mobilization.
However, it seems to have become an abuse as all
military vehicles enjoy the privilege, whether
they are on duty or not.
To make it worse,
in the 1980s and 1990s, when the PLA and PAP were
allowed to conduct commercial businesses, they
issued white plates to their business partners. It
was said that some troops even sell white plates
to make some extra bucks. As nearly everything in
China can be counterfeited, some savvy people also
produce fake white plates for profit.
Hence, the number of white-plate vehicles
on roads has grown. Since these vehicles usually
do not follow traffic rules, experienced civilian
drivers generally give them a wide berth.
When fake military license plates became
quite rampant, the PLA and PAP had to reiterate
that drivers of white-plate vehicles had to carry
their military identity cards. Military police
have been sporadically mobilized to check on
military vehicles. However, the effectiveness of
such campaigns remains doubtful.
against such background that news reports about
police in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong
province in southern China, shooting a medical
school professor to death who was suspected of
driving a car with a fake military plate have
drawn wide public attention.
At 4.55am on
November 13, Guangzhou policemen on patrol saw a
car near Zhujiang Hospital, its plates were
wrapped by newspapers. They approached the car to
check, but reportedly met resistance. A policeman
showed his identification, which was seized by the
driver who then tried to drive away. In the
commotion, the car hit a policeman. Police opened
fire and shot the driver, said a statement of the
Guangzhou police after the incident was reported
by the media. The driver, identified by police
only as a "senior doctor surnamed Yin", was
pronounced dead at the hospital.
Guangzhou-based mass-circulation Southern
Metropolis News reported the driver was Yin
Fangming, an associate professor in neurosurgery
with Zhujiang Hospital. Police said Yin's car was
not legally registered, and carried invalid
military plates. There were two civilian plates in
the trunk. Guangzhou has set up a task force to
investigate the incident.
sparked public controversy, with many questioning
whether the police had used excessive force by
opening fire. They demanded that the higher
authorities launch a through investigation into
whether it was necessary to open fire and whether
the shooting was legal. The latest development is
that the Ministry of Public Security may send a
team to oversee the investigation.
police opening fire to kill a civilian is a
serious issue which demands a thorough
investigation. But apart from this, another
controversial issue is whether the police are
empowered to check vehicles carrying military
"The police suspected Yin's car
was illegal or carrying fake military plates so
they wanted to check. However, only military
police are entitled to check on vehicles carrying
military plates, be they fake or not. Civilian
police have no power to do so," wrote a netizen
who called himself Sheng Dalin on
But others insist that
the police have the power to check and crack down
on fake military license plates. For instance, Mao
Lixin wrote in The Beijing News, "There are legal
grounds for police to check on military vehicles."
Sheng and Mao represent extreme opinions.
In reality, civilian police are not authorized to
check on genuine military vehicles. At best, they
can only report a violation of law by a military
vehicle to military authorities. However, from a
legal point of view, the police are entitled to
check on fake military plates, since
counterfeiting is a civilian crime. But it is
often difficult to tell with the naked eye whether
a military license is fake or not, so to avoid
embarrassment police normally avoid checking
vehicles carrying white plates, unless they are
sure the plates are fake.
This leaves room
for criminals to maneuver. There have been reports
of criminals disguised as soldiers using fake
military vehicles for smuggling or drug
trafficking. With fake white plates proliferating,
traffic privileges granted to military vehicles
have become a challenge to the enforcement of
"Seeing white-plate vehicles
- who knows if they are genuine or fake - barging
about on the road ignoring any regulations, I
would give my wholehearted support if the
government did something about it," a Guangzhou
taxi driver said.
Therefore, the CCP,
which really commands the PLA and the PAP, may
need to consider setting restrictions on the
privileges of military vehicles. For instance,
military vehicles should be ordered to obey
civilian traffic rules if they are not part of a
military mobilization. Or civilian police should
be empowered to check military vehicles not
carrying out military missions.
If the CCP
still wants to preserve privileges for the
military, it should order the PLA and the PAP to
regularly send out military police to patrol the
roads to ensure that military vehicles behave
themselves, and to help civilian police check and
crack down on fake white plates.
late for Yin but there's still time for the CCP to
address the problem.