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China’s army infiltrated by ‘peace disease’ after years without a war, says its official newspaper

China’s People’s Liberation Army is ridden with “peace disease”, its official newspaper has said as efforts are stepped up to address a lack of battle-readiness and anti-graft measures continue to stamp out corruption of its military drills.

According to the People’s Liberation Army Daily in an editorial on Monday, “peace disease” has infiltrated every corner of the PLA since its last battles, with Vietnam in the late 1970s, threatening to undermine the fighting capability of what is the world’s largest military.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the military to boost its combat-readiness in response to concerns that officers lack the required competence after having not engaged in battle for decades. Xi has launched reforms including downsizing the army and placing greater emphasis on training.

To prevent some military officials falsifying training data, the Central Military Commission (CMC) has since November been sending military disciplinary officers – representing the PLA’s anti-graft watchdog – to the army’s five theatre commands as inspectors, to monitor drills.

“Peace disease has been a common symptom in our military for decades,” the PLA Daily editorial read. “If we do not make up our mind to eliminate those evils, we must pay a heavy cost in the event of a war.

“We can only stop a war when we are able to fight.”

It stressed that the country was facing greater security threats and unprecedented global variables, and added: “Let the army get back on the right track, concentrating on combat-ready training.”

Xi, who chairs the CMC, has ordered the PLA to be transformed into a world-class fighting force in the next three decades.

That ambitious goal requires the military to learn from its Western counterparts, especially the United States, and to conduct regular and intensive live-fire drills – with the inspectors sent to try to ensure the drills’ integrity.

The shift has come as China increasingly flexes its military muscle in the disputed South China Sea, and establishes missions further away, such as setting up a military hub in the east African nation of Djibouti.

Retired PLA colonel Yue Gang said the military was reminding its officers that the Communist Party’s anti-corruption drive was shifting from “capturing big tigers [senior officials]” to “prohibiting omission”.

“Apart from corruption, job omission is the next key symptom of ‘peace disease’ in the Chinese military that should be cured,” Yue said, referring to some military commanders’ creation of fake data relating to routine military drills.

PLA party representatives from the ground force of the Fuzhou-based Eastern Theatre Command in Fujian province selected a new batch of anti-graft officers on Friday to monitor military drills.

The theatre is the former power base of Xi, who spent more than 17 years there before he was promoted as Zhejiang party chief in 2002.

The Eastern Theatre Command is one of the five war zones of the PLA, covering Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Shanghai and East Sea Fleet.

The statement said the ground forces in the Eastern Theatre Command would make efforts to comply with Xi’s order to focus on combat-ready training.

Yue said the Eastern Theatre Command’s pledge would be promoted to China’s other four theatres, in the central, south, west and east.

“The message is clear: inactive military officials involved in falsification will be sent to military courts and punished by law, which is definitely stricter than previous years,” Yue said, adding that officials found guilty of misconduct in the past had received a warning, or been told to make a repentant admission.

“Being an uncorrupted official does not mean you are qualified in the army. The treatment and benefits given to Chinese servicemen and women is in line with international standards, and so we should expect the training for them to also meet international levels. Otherwise, there will be serious consequences for the military.”

The anti-graft movement has brought down two former CMC vice-chairmen, Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, who were the most senior military officers investigated for buying and selling military ranks and other forms of corruption.

At least 13,000 military officers involved in corruption have been punished over the past five years, the PLA Daily reported in October.

Military drills during Guo and Xu’s terms in the early 2000s were routine and often conducted for show and profit, with more drills translating to more funding and commanders involved in well-received drills boosting their chances of being promoted – practices that were later identified as harmful by Xi.

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