The PLA and International Humanitarian Law:
Achievements and Challenges
ASIA PAPEROctober 2013
The PLA and International Humanitarian Law:
Achievements and Challenges
(Translated from Chinese by Kelly Chen)
Institute for Security and Development PolicyVstra Finnbodavgen 2, 131 30 Stockholm-Nacka, Sweden
The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges is an Asia Paper published by the Institute for Security and Development Policy. The Asia Pa-pers Series is the Occasional Paper series of the Institutes Asia Program, and addresses topical and timely subjects. The Institute is based in Stockholm, Sweden, and cooperates closely with research centers worldwide. Through its Silk Road Studies Program, the In-stitute runs a joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center with the Central Asia-Cau-casus Institute of Johns Hopkins Universitys School of Advanced International Studies. The Institute is firmly established as a leading research and policy center, serving a large and diverse community of analysts, scholars, policy-watchers, business leaders, and journalists. It is at the forefront of research on issues of conflict, security, and develop-ment. Through its applied research, publications, research cooperation, public lectures, and seminars, it functions as a focal point for academic, policy, and public discussion.
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Key Abbreviations 4
Executive Summary 5
Chinas Humanitarian Tradition: An Introduction 6
The PRC and International Humanitarian Law: Treaties and Legislation 8
The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Tradition, Training, and Enforcement 12
Future Needs and Challenges 22
About the Author 28
PRC Peoples Republic of ChinaPLA Peoples Liberation ArmyAMS Academy of Military ScienceICRC International Committee of the Red CrossIIHL International Institute of Humanitarian LawIHL International Humanitarian LawPOW Prisoner of WarICTY International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
As a branch of international law, the duty to implement international humanitarian law (IHL) lies mainly with the state. The government of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has undertaken a number of legal and practical actions to fulfill its international obligations in this area. The practical measures include organizing and delegating the implementation of tasks to military authorities and academic institutions. The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has a major role in the PRCs aim of ensuring full compliance with this body of law, as well as ensuring that its provisions are fully respected, even in peacetime. Both China and the PLA retain a long humanitarian tradition in this respect. Indeed, principles regarding the humane conduct of armed conflict and lenient treatment of captives were followed by the PLA and preceded the introduction of formal IHL treaties by the international community by more than 20 years. Moreover, at the international level, China is a party to most of the major IHL treaties and is one of the states to have ratified the largest number of IHL instruments. The PLA has established professional agencies, promoted education and training of military personnel, promoted research, and participated in international activities concerning IHL. Remarkable results have been achieved due to these enhanced efforts in recent years. Therefore, major IHL treaties and provisions have become integral parts of the PLAs education and training programs, and, as a result, IHL has been widely disseminated and implemented within the army. However, for the future development of IHL within the PLA, even greater implementation of IHL provisions into PLA regulations needs to be carried out, as well as a strengthening of practical education, training, and research.
Editor's note: This paper has been edited for greater clarity and may depart in minor instances from the Chinese-language version as well as the original translation.
Chinas Humanitarian Tradition: An Introduction
While war and humanitarianism are opposites, there is an overlap between the two in international humanitarian law (IHL),1 the subject of this paper and the practical implementation of which will be examined in greater depth in the case of China, and more specifically the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). However, it is first necessary to recognize that the philosophy of IHL is based on the humanitarian spirit, which is rooted in the human consciousness and basic emotions. This so-called humanitarian spirit has gradually developed throughout mankinds history and has existed in vari-ous forms and guises in all ancient civilizations and religions.
China has a deep-seated historical tradition of humanitarianism. Con-fucius concept of renai (love for ones fellow man), Mozis jianai (universal love), and Mencius renzheng (benevolent government), among others, all reflect the Chinese peoples respect for human life. Confucius said: Soldiers must be righteous, violence must be directed at the right targets, meaning that those who are not guilty must not be attacked, and the innocent must not be massacred and slaughtered at will. Mencius also said: if one is with-out the heart of compassion, one is not a human, showing that humanitari-anism is considered one of the fundamental dictates of human nature.
Other historical concepts that embody the idea of humanitarianism can be found in Zuo Zhuan (Zuo Qiu Mings work about the Spring and Autumn period), in which it is stated: Ending the fight is the highest form of valor, while The Han Dynasty Work on Divination argued that Senseless killing is heartless and inhumane. Sunzis The Art of War discusses how to break the enemys resistance without fighting.2 Furthermore, The Methods of the Sima stipulates that when entering enemy territory, soldiers are not allowed to profane religious tablets, to hunt, to destroy water conservatory projects, burn down houses, cut down trees, arrogate livestock, food or utensils; when
1 Defined as the body of law that seeks, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or no longer participating in hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare, OECD, Glossary of Statistical Terms, http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=7251.2 In Chinese, bu zhan er qu ren zhi bing , from the section on Attacking by Stratagem in Sunzi: The Art of War Sunzi bingfa, trans. Lin Wusun (Beijing, Foreign Languages Press, 2011), pp. 16-17.
The PLA and International Humanitarian Law 7
meeting the elderly and young, the soldiers should escort them home; when encountering strong youths, if they do not resist, they should not be treated as enemies; wounded enemies must first be treated and then released to return home.3 Such fundamental humanitarian philosophies have had a profound impact on the thinking and practices of the Chinese military.
Since ancient times, therefore, the Chinese military has always aimed to conform to the ideas of benevolence and righteousness, to be courteous envoys, to treat captives kindly, and to care about the people and proper-ties of the defeated state. These traditional ideologies are highly compat-ible with the modern discipline of IHL. Indeed, these traditions have been passed down in the Chinese army for centuries and thus provide a solid foundation for the PLAs implementation of IHL in the twenty-first century. Before examining these, however, an overview is provided of the PRCs accession to IHL treaties as well as how these relate to nationally imple-mented legislation.
3 Zhong-mei-e-ri-ying wu guo zhangzhengfa lilun yu shiji yanjiu [Theory and Practical Research on the Law of War in China, the United States of America, Russia, Japan and India], PLA Xian Academy of Politics, June 2003, p. 35.
The PRC and International Humanitarian Law: Treaties and Legislation
The Chinese government attaches great importance to international human-itarian law (IHL) and has undertaken a variety of actions at the international and national level to fulfill its obligations with respect to IHL. These mea-sures have provided a solid foundation for the PLA to further disseminate and implement the relevant IHL provisions within the military.
Ratification of and Accession to Major IHL Treaties
Table 1. Chinese Ratification/Accession to Main IHL treaties
Treaties Signature RatificationAccessionSuccession
Hague Convention (IV) (1907) - May 10, 1917 -
Geneva Convention (I-IV) (1949) July 13, 1952 December 28, 1956
Additional Protocol I - September 14, 1983
Additional Protocol II - September 14, 1983
The Hague Cultural Property Convention (1954)
May 14, 1954
January 5, 2000
Protocol (1954) May 14, 1954
January 5, 2000
Treaties on the Use of Certain WeaponsGeneva Gas Protocol (1925) - July 13, 1952 R
At the international level, China is a party to most of the main treaties and is one of the states that has ratified the largest number of IHL instruments. Among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council,
The PLA and International Humanitarian Law 9
China was the first state to become a full party to the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols.4
At the same time, China is highly supportive of the advancement and development of IHL instruments. For example, China actively supports the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, all of which were concluded after extensive petitioning by China and other countries. In addition, China is an active participant in international humanitarian organizations.
Implementing National Legislation
Implementing national legislation in the PRC is necessary for the IHL trea-ties to have legal effect under Chinas domestic law. Recognition of the international commitments by which the PRC is bound can be found in the National Defense Law of the PRC, which was first enacted in 1997. Article 67 states: in its military relations with other countries, the PRC should observe the relevant international treaties and agreements that the PRC has concluded, acceded to or accepted.5
An important aspect of the national implementation of IHL obligations is the enactment of legal frameworks for the punishment of war crimes. There are strict penalties for offences committed in armed conflict, which are regarded as war crimes according to the Criminal Law of the PRC. Articles 444448 provide for offences such as the mutilation of civilians in wartime, plundering of civilians properties, and abuse of Prisoners of War (POWs).
Other laws relate to compliance with and enforcement of the IHL con-ventions on the use of biological and chemical weapons. For example, China has enacted legislation on Export Control of Dual Use Biological Agents and Related Equipment and Technologies Regulation and Export Control of Chemical Products and Related Equipment and Technologies Regulation.
4 In 1956, China ratified the main treaties of the Geneva Convention of 1949. In 1983, China ratified the two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, and thus became the only state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to ratify both protocols. The United States of America, Great Britain, and Russia have yet to accede to the protocols; France has only acceded to the first additional protocol.5 He Xiaodong, The Chinese humanitarian heritage and the dissemination of and education in international humanitarian law in the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army, March 31, 2001, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 841, http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/other/57jqyz.htm
These regulations provide specific rules concerning strict limitations on the export of biological and chemical products, and have established a compre-hensive legal system to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, as well as missiles. In order to comply with and enforce the IHL provisions on the use of landmines, moreover, China has implemented new military standards based on the revision of The Land-mine Protocol.
In addition, to comply with and execute the regulations on the pro-tection of children participating in armed conflicts, China has enacted the Military Service Law of the PRC, the Criminal Law of the PRC, and the Law on the Protection of Minors of the PRC, as well as other related laws that provide regulations on the minimum age for conscription, supervisory measures, penalties for violating regulations, and so on.
Chinas National Committee on International Humanitarian Law
In November 2007, China established the National Committee on Interna-tional Humanitarian Law. It serves as the national IHL advisory body for the coordination of IHL dissemination and implementation for the Chinese government, the military, and the Red Cross Society of China. The commit-tee members consist of, among others, representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the State Administration for Cultural Heritage, the PLAs General Staff Department, the PLAs General Political Department, the Legal Affairs Bureau of the Central Military Commission, and the Red Cross Society of China. Its tasks include promoting research on major IHL issues and providing coordina-tion for IHL dissemination activities, international exchanges, and coopera-tion with relevant organizations.6 In the white paper Chinas National Defense in 2008, it is clearly stated that under the [coordination] of the National Committee on International Humanitarian Law, the relevant military units
6 Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guanyu ertong quanli gongyue guanyu ertong juan ru wuzhuang chongtu wenti de ren ze yidingshu zhi hang qingkuang de shou qi baogao,[The Peoples Republic of Chinas First Report on the Implementation of Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict], http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_chn/ziliao_611306/tytj_611312/tyfg_611314/t812061.shtml...