Leadership: China Tries to Improve Officer Quality

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November 4, 2005: China's leaders are seeking new leadership for their armed forces. The military is having a hard time recruiting (in a rapidly expanding economy) first rate officers, and many of those it does get are damaged goods. China's leaders know that, for centuries, Chinese military forces have tended to fall apart in peacetime, while continuing to appear effective. As China spends more money on its armed forces, the national leaders have been taking a closer look at what they are getting. The bosses are not happy with what they see.

Even the Chinese communists were not able to stamp out corruption in the military. Oh, the corrupt generals kept their heads down for a decade or so, but by the 1970s they were back in business. It's only gotten worse since then. And then there's the brutal competition for good officer material. There are plenty of good quality Chinese available to serve as troops (because of high unemployment at the bottom of the education scale) But when it comes to highly educated people, for officer jobs, there are far more economic opportunities to distract them. Few young men want to trade splendid career opportunities, in order to join the military. For many young, educated, Chinese, wearing a uniform is seen as a symbol of career failure.

Trying to turn all this around is going to be difficult. Moreover, it has to be handled carefully. You can't come right out and say, "our military is run by a bunch of losers, we need new guys who can do a better job." Instead, there is more money, and a not-subtle-promise that things will be different for a new, more capable, generation of officers. This is not likely to work, leaving China with lots of new weapons and equipment, and officers who are not able to make the most of it.

 


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