Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 1,266,838,000
    – under-18s: 380,430,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 2,470,000
    – reserves: 500,000-600,000
    – paramilitary(active): 1,100,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: no minimum age
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 15 March 2001
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II.
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces as voluntary recruits under 18 are accepted. Minors also appear to have been involved with armed Uyghur nationalist groups.


Cross-straits relations with Taiwan have stabilised in the past year but continue to remain tense. In March 2001, China announced an 18 per cent increase in its defence budget. There are armed opposition activities in the province of Xinjiang where elements of the non-Chinese Muslim Uyghur community are seeking independence, reportedly with links to armed groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.395 The state has cracked down with force, committing grave human rights violations against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities.396


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Conscription is enshrined in article 55 of the 1982 Constitution which states that "[i]t is the sacred obligation of every citizen of the People's Republic of China to defend the motherland and resist aggression. It is the honourable duty of citizens of the People's Republic of China to perform military service and join the militia in accordance with the law." According to Article 80 of the Constitution, the President of the People's Republic of China has the power to proclaim a state of war and issue mobilisation orders.397

The current legal basis for military service is the 1984 Military Service Law.398 According to this law, the military service system is based mainly on conscription and "combines conscripts with volunteers and a militia with a reserve service" (Section 2). Section 12 of this law states that: "Each year, male citizens who have reached 18 years of age by 31 December shall be enlisted for active service. Those who are not enlisted during the year shall remain eligible for active service until they are 22. To meet the needs of the armed forces, female citizens may be enlisted for active service according to the provision of the preceding paragraph." Conscripts must be registered for military service by 30 September of the year during which they reach 18 years of age (Section 13). Military service is for 2 years according to a 1998 amendment to this law.

Voluntary recruitment is governed by section 12 of the 1984 Military Service Law which states that "To meet the needs of the armed forces and on the principle of voluntary participation, male and female citizens who have not yet reached 18 years of age by 31 December of a certain year may be enlisted for active service". No information is given on the minimum age for voluntary recruitment. This amended Military Service Law allows those serving voluntarily to remain in the armed forces for up to 30 years, 12 years longer than was previously the case. This change was made in order to encourage voluntary enlistment.

The reserve forces have become an important element of the Chinese defence doctrine for military and economic reasons.399 Section 23 of the Military Service Law states that "[P]ersons serving in the soldiers' reserve shall be between the ages of 18 and 35."

The Chinese armed forces are finding it difficult to enlist the requisite numbers of recruits. Enthusiasm for military service is particularly low among one-child families.400 Authorities have promulgated regulations to boost recruitment. On 9 October 1999, a joint circular was issued concerning efficiency in conscription. The circular called up young males from 18 to 20 years of age, and females from 18 to 19 years of age, for conscription procedures. It also declared that 17-year-old females can be voluntarily recruited if they meet the special demands of certain military departments. There is apparently no provision in the circular for underage boys to enlist. All drafted males are required to have completed at least a junior-school education, while only females who are senior-high graduates will be drafted that year.401

Military Training and Military Schools

Military academies in China have been reorganised many times during the past decades and their number has been reduced.402 The last restructuring was done in July 1999 when four new military schools were established.403 No information is available on entry requirements but it seems that applicants must be over 18 years of age according to section 30 of the Law on Military Service states that: "[M]ilitary institutes and academies may, according to the needs in building up the armed forces, enrol cadets from among young students. The age limit for the cadets to be enrolled must be the same as that for the active servicemen". However, if this section is linked with the third paragraph of Section 12 of the same law, it appears that under-18s can be enrolled. The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has about 13 schools for training a large number of sailors and officers, four for training commanding officers, and nine for technical and non-commissioned officers.404

There are close links between the military and the education system. Students at nearly all colleges and universities are expected to undergo one month's military training (Section 43 to 46 of the 1984 Military Service Law). The training period was shortened to one month in 1993 since it appeared that students preferred to go to colleges below their standard of education rather than undergo military training.405 The Chinese armed forces have been particularly short of well-educated youth within their ranks and have set up a system of scholarships in key universities to recruit talented youngsters into the military. The amount of these scholarships (US$600) is much higher than many existing scholarships offered by schools or enterprises. Applicants may be asked to attend military drill during schooling and before starting their military career.406


There are about 20 Uyghur nationalist opposition groups in Xinjiang province. They are mostly very small, disorganised and not very active407 One of the largest groups is the East Turkestan National Liberation Front which seeks independence for the province. The Home of the Youth is another group of more than 2,000 – mainly young members.408

Child Recruitment

It has been reported that teenagers and children have taken part in separatist groups, although the degree to which they have participated in armed activities is unknown. A 16-year-old boy was among 29 others sentenced at a public rally held in a sports stadium in Gulja (Yining) city on 22 July 1997 for offences allegedly committed during protests and rioting in February 1997. Unofficial sources reported that at a public sentencing rally held in Yarkant (Shache) the same year, seven men and boys, aged from 16 to 25, were sentenced for involvement in allegedly "separatist" activities.409 Concerns have been raised about the fairness of political trials in China.


International Standards

The People's Republic of China signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 15 March 2001.

395 McGregor, A., "Mummies and mullahs: Islamic separation in China's new frontier", BTH, Vol. 56, No. 4, 8/99.

396 AI Report 1999.

397 Blaustein and Flanz op. cit.

398 Military Service Law of the People's Republic of China of 31 May 1984, The Laws of the People's Republic of China, Legislative Affairs Commission, Foreign Language Press, Beijing, 1990, pp. 191-200.

399 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

400 "Military recruitment and reckless fee assessments", Inside China Mainland, 1/4/99.

401 "China issues winter conscription notice", BBC Monitoring Service, 9/10/99; "China: State Council issues winter conscription order", BBC Monitoring service, 10/10/99; "China starts winter conscription", People's Daily, 10/10/99.

402 Kondappalli, S., "Military academies in China", Strategic Analysis, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, April 1999; Li, N", "Organizational changes of the PLA, 1985-1997., The China Quarterly, June 1999.

403 "Four new military schools set up", China Daily, 3/7/99.

404 Kondapalli, S., "China's Naval Training Programme", Strategic Analysis, Vol. XXIII, No. 8, 11/99.

405 Horeman and Stolwijk, M.

406 "Military scholarships in sight", China Daily, 5/8/99.

407 Balencie and de La Grange op. cit.

408 Chang-Ching, C., "Fight for East Turkestan", Taipei Times, 11/10/99.

409 AI. China People's Republic of China: gross violations of human rights in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, ASA17/18/99, 4/99.


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