Commanders and senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army must go to the front lines to ensure the day-to-day problems of the rank and file are resolved in a timely manner, the PLA Daily said in an editorial.
The call, published on Tuesday, mostly addressed the importance of conducting field studies, but it is also part of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign and an effort by the top brass to rebuild the army’s traditions and improve combat readiness, military observers say.
Department heads and Communist Party leaders of PLA units should conduct field studies, understand the real-life problems of soldiers on the front lines and come up with innovative solutions, the editorial said.
It also said senior officers must hear directly from grass-roots soldiers instead of relying on information collected from second-hand sources.
“Members of the Central Military Commission should take the lead in carrying out investigations and research by organising seminars and exchange [activities],” it said, referring to the PLA’s top decision-making body, which is chaired by President Xi Jinping.
“[Senior officers] must say no to formalism and bureaucracy, and follow a simple and frugal [work] style with a humble and prudent mindset in conducting investigation and research.”
Zhou Chenming, a researcher with the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, said the editorial largely promoted the down-to-earth work style championed by Xi, which emphasises a “close-to-the-people” approach.
A retired PLA officer said the push could be seen as part of Xi’s ongoing anti-graft campaign targeting the military.
A new wave of anti-corruption measures has seen the downfall of several senior generals in the PLA Rocket Force, including former commander Li Yuchao, two former deputies, Zhang Zhenzhong and Liu Guangbin, as well as former political commissar Xu Zhongbo, replacing them with a new slate of senior officers.
There is another, stronger anti-graft storm hitting the army, as corruption is being uncovered through the investigations, but the most urgent issue is about improving combat readiness,” said the retired officer, who requested anonymity.
“China is facing complicated and tough security challenges at home and abroad, so Xi has gone back to the ‘stay close to the people’ approach once championed by Mao Zedong – a long-held PLA tradition – to boost morale in the military,” he said.
Ni Lexiong, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said a close relationship between senior PLA officers and frontline soldiers would help the army “cultivate strong chemistry between teammates”, which was the PLA’s trump card in defeating the Kuomintang troops during the civil war.
“In Mao’s era, he wanted senior PLA cadres to work and live with grass-roots troops regularly, which really enhanced military morale. But this was basically abandoned during the Cultural Revolution,” Ni said.
“Superficial or window-dressing inspections won’t work. The Central Military Commission needs to establish a regular mechanism so the top brass will stay in the field with the frontline soldiers – just like their American counterparts do.”