Chinese troops ordered to shape up after new regulations set out ways to project a 'first-class image'

Huang Panyue

China has ordered its troops to improve their physical fitness and make sure they project a “first-class image” in a set of new regulations that also impose more stringent rules on their behaviour.

The “PLA Common Regulations” were approved by President Xi Jinping on Sunday and will take effect on May 1.

They highlight the importance of combat preparation as part of soldiers’ daily routine, while some discipline violations will receive more severe punishments.

“Modern warfare has evolved significantly, and the missions of the Chinese military have expanded,” read an article published by the military mouthpiece PLA Daily explaining the reasons for the changes.

The amendments stress the importance of projecting a positive public image.

“A first-class military must have a first-class image,” a Central Military Commission official was quoted as saying.

For instance, all military personnel must ensure they are not overweight.

“We don’t see US officers with paunchy bellies,” said Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military commentator, said.

“Body shape to some extent demonstrates the military’s discipline.”

The Chinese armed forces have previously expressed concern that too many young recruits are failing physical fitness tests. Last year PLA Daily reported that more than half the recruits in some areas of central China were failing to make the cut.

The regulations also banned military personnel from wearing bracelets or non-uniform gloves. In particular, it told soldiers they were not allowed to carry umbrellas unless it was raining or snowing, adding: “The umbrella in use must be black in colour and usually held in the left hand.”

The new Common Regulations also said there would be rewards for troops who take part in operations overseas but did not provide further details.

The article said outstanding performances in overseas operations such as “peacekeeping, counterterrorism, escort patrol, joint exercises and international rescue” would be encouraged.

Last year China opened its first overseas military base in the strategically important east African state of Djibouti.

While the content of the Common Regulations reflected the challenges the military faced today, Ni said the rules also symbolised Xi’s tighter control over the military and his meticulous management compared with his predecessors.

The rules will allow members of the PLA to wear their uniforms when attending events such as weddings, homecomings and award ceremonies to “demonstrate a good image” and “ensure respect for the military”.

The importance of ceremony is also emphasised as a way of “enhancing troops’ sense of honour and responsibility”, and improving their morale.

The regulations increase the number of military ceremonies from three to 17, and added gunfire salutes to memorials and funerals.

Meanwhile, the regulations restore the Order of Bayi (August the First) as the PLA’s highest honour for those that have made a distinguished contribution to national defence, security and military development.

The order has been issued only once – in 1955 – to the founders of the force and heroes from the Communists’ first war with the Nationalists fought between 1927 and 1937.

The rules around phone use have also been clarified, with off-duty rank and file troops and junior officers being allowed to use their mobiles if they are registered with the military authorities.

Soldiers have also been given the green light to use social media and shop online, as long as they do “not leak confidential military information, violate regulations or damage the image of the military”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: PLA troops given new orders to shape up

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