Video killed the PLA Star: Cartoons and popstars last resort to attract “Baby” soldiers
It happens but rarely that a totalitarian regime accepts its mistakes publicly, and that too when the eyes of the entire world are fixated on its smallest of steps. So when the latest population census shows a massive decline in births across China, it is reason to be worried. The CCP has long tooted its own horn about the success of its One Child policy which ‘stabilised’ their population at 1.4 billion. But large numbers have their own Malthusian logic - writes Henry St George.
Though seemingly counterintuitive, a large population is a boon for any country, provided it is handled properly. Now the same all-knowing party has been forced to retract its past statements and false proclamations and forced to ‘liberalise’ their child-rearing policy to allow upto three children per family. Unfortunately, birthing cannot be increased at the push of a button, nor can it be planned at five year intervals. Coercion, the preferred policy of the CCP in all its foreign and domestic dealings, has no major impact on this aspect.
The CCP’s policy of restricting the fertility rates for Chinese women in 1979 led to a decline from 2.75 in 1979 to 1.69 in 2018 and finally 1.3, as per the latest census. For a country to remain in that ‘optimal’ zone of balancing between the youth and the aged, the rate needs to be near or equal to 2.1, a distant target to achieve in the short term, regardless of incentives. The CCP modified their policy in 2013 when they allowed couples, themselves single children, to have two children. This bizarre restriction was removed entirely in 2016 and now the policy allows up to three children. This is in total contrast to the inhuman efforts by the CCP to curtail the birth rates of Uighur women in the Xinjiang region. Using vasectomy and artificial implements forcefully, the Uighur population rate has been reduced to its lowest since 1949, which is nothing but genocide. To put a number on it, Chinese birth control policies could cut between 2.6 to 4.5 million births of the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in southern Xinjiang within 20 years, up to a third of the region's projected minority population. Already, official birth rates have dropped by 48.7% between 2017 and 2019.
The drop in population has been so severe that President Xi Jinping had to hold an emergency meeting of the Political Bureau of the CCP’s Central Committee on 01 June where he attempted to incentivise birth of more than one child in the upcoming 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25). However, the wordings in the conference and the policy decisions point to a dictatorial way of implementing this so called incentivisation. “Education and Guidance” will be provided for family and marriage values and a national long and medium term “Population Development Strategy” will be implemented. This policy has been trolled heavily on Weibo where the ordinary Chinese citizens have decried the rising cost of education and living, supporting ageing parents, lack of day care facilities and excessively long working hours.
The impact of this policy has been felt the most in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Though it has left no stone unturned to showcase its disruptive potential against the US and India, in terms of an ‘informationised’ and ‘intelligentised’ warfighting potential, the truth is that it is struggling to retain recruits of adequate intellect and technical skills. Most Chinese youth with even an iota of scope for job opportunities in tech companies, stay miles away from the PLA. The PLA has had to resort to movie-making, producing rap videos and requesting support of movie stars in order to attract and retain Gen Z youth in its ranks. Unlike the previous generations of PLA recruits, most of whom were from peasant families and used to hardships and following orders without questioning them, the new recruits are tech-savvy and are the only ones with capability to operate PLA’s new military toys, whether they are AI, hypersonic missiles or drones. Due to the emphasis on civil-military fusion, PLA has been able to modernise its military rapidly but has forgotten that the military is as good as its soldiers and officers. The desperation for recruitment can be made out of the fact that height and weight norms have been diluted, professional psychotherapists are being brought in to counsel them and exo-skeletons and drones are being used to ensure that the troops face minimal hardship. All these are excellent training methods for a peacetime army but such ‘mollycoddling’ and degraded physical standards will lead to a rout during wartime.
The One-Child policy of 1979 also implies that more than 70% of PLA troops are from one-child families and this number increases to 80% when it comes to combat troops. Though it is an open secret that more than four PLA soldiers died in the Galwan Valley clash with Indian troops last year, the CCP has managed to keep this fact a secret, aware of the possibilities of social and political disturbances that may mar its successful hold on information dissemination. Even the death of the four soldiers created a huge uproar on social media websites in China despite being heavily censored. Bloggers and journalists arguing to the contrary have either been jailed or disappeared. This is a natural reaction of a society which has been kept in an information vacuum for the past 20 years, and which has been diet-fed the myth of its own invulnerability and invincibility. The last war that China fought was in 1979 and that too with hardened Mao-era soldiers intoxicated with Communist ideology. The modern Chinese society has not seen war or its after-effects. When their own ‘precious’ children start to fall, the wailing will shock the CCP out of power.