The Chinese army, or better off, the People’s Liberation Army is not a motivated one. During the time I dealt with the PLA while commanding the Nathu La Brigade, I realized how it is plagued by corruption, outdated command structures and unprofessionalism. As Nathu La was the central point for military communications for EC, I had to speak on the telephone with my counterpart every week and meet with him once a month followed by drinks and meal. Even families from both the sides joined in.
My counterpart once told me that he gets only one third of what I get. However, they get “compensation” in the form of various perks like free rations, liquor, cigarettes, domestic help, and schooling for children, college fee, vehicle etc. Basically, this is how the cadre survives, and these little perks can be withdrawn in a jiffy based on slightest suspicion. So, majority of the men in the PLA are highly insecure.
In one of the interactions, my wife was speaking to a wife of GSO 1 of the opposite side. Being an English teacher, the lady was fluent in English and so she said that she will have to move out to Shanghai and live with her mother as waiting period for SFA is 2 years. She was hoping, that in the meantime, her husband would get a priority recommendation. The point is the party controls the lifestyle of individuals very closely.
For approximately two decades, from the early 1980s through the early 2000s, the PLA typically provided its staff with levels of compensation and overall benefits lower than in the civilian economy. This not only made it difficult for the PLA to compete with that economy in recruitment and retention, it also incentivized the spread of corruption within the force.
The PLA enjoys an almost absolute immunity from external oversight, budgetary transparency, and accountability to the legislature for how it spends its funds and operates. As a consequence, the PLA is believed to be riddled with corruption. Examples of such corruption abound, from the 2000 arrest of Ji Shengde, Director of Military Intelligence in the PLA’s General Staff Department (GSD); to the 2012 detention of the former deputy director of the General Logistics Department (GLD), Lieutenant General Gu Junshan; and culminating in the 2014 arrest and expulsion from the Party of former CMC Vice Chairman Xu Caihou. Xu’s co–Vice Chairman, General Guo Boxiong, is also widely rumored to be under investigation for personal and family members’ corruption.
There have also been concerns that military awards and commendations have been distributed far too liberally as a way to put an official gloss on corrupt activities, something that the PLA has recently announced efforts to address.
Corruption at lower levels also abounds, with widespread stories of PLA officers privatizing their military-assigned housing and selling it on the open market, speeding through traffic with immunity (police will not ticket a military-plated vehicle), parking in illegal spaces, and putting military plates on their personal vehicles to avoid paying highway tolls and to enjoy free fill-ups at gas stations.
Targeting corruption among military officers, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a 2019 speech had said that military officers can only rely on their salaries for income and that any unapproved income or illegal gains will be investigated and punished.
But soldiers have to bring home the bacon. How do officers and soldiers get paid and how much do they earn? Some media estimated that since 2014 when a substantial salary adjustment took place in China’s armed forces, an army lieutenant’s monthly salary is about 3,000 yuan and that of a lieutenant-colonel is 5,000 to 6,000 yuan. In China, this salary level is similar to that of civil servants and perhaps slightly higher.
With these levels of motivation and corruption, it is no wonder that until recent times, Chinese soldiers have been coming and asking their Indian counterparts at Nathu La for cigarettes, rum and tea, mail is exchanged twice in a week in a hut constructed specially for this purpose.