China has greatly expanded a youth military training program and will provide compulsory training this year to 50 million children as young as 9 years of age, an exclusive USA Today investigation reveals.
The training takes place at camps run by the People’s Liberation Army and is aimed at promoting teamwork and sacrifice in boys and girls from age 9 to 18, who for the most have been growing up without siblings due to China’s one-child limit for couples.
The program is cloaked in secrecy. A military official confiscated a USA Today reporter’s camera when the journalist visited a training camp in the city of Wenzhou. Young people in the camps are taught self-defense and study advanced weaponry, including American Black Hawk helicopters and aircraft carriers, USA Today reports.
College students began receiving mandatory military training in the mid-1980s, and state-run camps for teens and pre-teens were first established in 2001. The program was expanded dramatically this year.
Because of the one-child policy, most Chinese young people have six adults – two parents and two sets of grandparents – doting on them.
The training program is designed not so much to impart military know-how as to provide an experience that “will help prevent these children from being too selfish and conceited as their parents spoil them,” child psychologist Liu Zhe of the Beijing Institute of Medical Psychology told USA Today.
But the expansion of the youth training program is another move that has raised concerns in the U.S. about China’s military and plans for the future:
China’s military spending rose 17.8 percent this year, the largest annual increase in more than a decade.
The budget for China’s 2.3 million-man army – the largest standing army in the world – is officially $45 billion. But in June, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and the Pentagon charged that China was intentionally understating its military spending, and Skelton said the actual figure was between $85 billion and $125 billion.
China only recently agreed to provide basic information about its military budget and weapons purchases to the United Nations after declining to do so for more than a decade.
The Pentagon said this week that computer hackers gained access to an e-mail system in the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The report came after the Financial Times newspaper quoted officials as saying that Chinese army hackers broke into a Defense Department network in June and removed data.
The German magazine Der Spiegel recently reported that Chinese hackers had also invaded computers at four German ministries, infecting them with spy programs. German officials reportedly believed the hackers could be associated with the People’s Liberation Army.
A report from the Defense Intelligence Agency disclosed that the Chinese army was operating more than 2,000 front companies inside the U.S. as of early 2002. One such company, China United Airlines, is actually owned by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
A Pentagon report in 2004 cited China as a major threat to U.S. national security, and noted that China’s growing military capability and predatory economic policy is aimed directly at the U.S.
According to a June report in the Washington Times, China is supplying the Taliban with advanced weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to be used to kill Americans.