Toward a More Humane PLA

The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges
Lt. Col. Wang Wenjuan
Institute for Security and Development Policy
Stockholm
October 2013

English: A Chinese soldier with the People's L...

English: A Chinese soldier with the People’s Liberation Army waits to assist with American and Chinese delegation’s traffic at Shenyang training base, China, March 24, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even leaving aside the tragic events of June 1989, speaking of the humanitarian record of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems almost an oxymoron. We simply do not think of the PLA in those terms.

Wang Wenjuan does, though, and in her paper she makes a clear case that China’s military leaders are at least going through the motions. She documents the understanding international humanitarian law (IHL) at the highest levels of command, the degree to which it is integrated into PLA training and indoctrination programs, and the fact that the PLA is even engaged in “research” into humanitarian law.

What matters, of course, is the behavior of the force on the battlefield and in the administration of areas captured and occupied in combat, or areas administered under a peacekeeping mandate. In the two decades during which Wang suggests that the PLA has been in compliance with IHL, the force has never faced a true test of its resolve. And there lies the rub.

In language designed carefully not to place her career in jeopardy, LTC Wang makes clear that more effort is needed to ensure that the PLA behaves in the field according to its professed ideals. History has proven that this is a tall order even for the armed forces of democratic powers (Amritsar, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, for example.) The PLA has much to prove, and Wang understands that the PLA has a long way to go before it can face such a test.

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