China Mandates Military Training in Schools: Tibetan Applicants in PLA Decrease

By Tsering Choephel

Armoured personnel carriers manoeuvre through a university campus during military drills in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Image: CCTV.

DHARAMSALA, 8 May: China’s National Defence Education Law is being revised, mandating that students in universities, high schools, and middle schools undergo mandatory military training, according to a report by Nikkei Asia today.

Several universities have already introduced military boot camps, where students are taught how to use and load firearms and even drive armoured vehicles. President Xi reportedly also highlighted the need for what he called “emerging areas” such as AI, robotics, and space to be part of China’s military arsenal, according to the report.

The responsibility for this revised law is given to the Ministry of Education and the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s top defence body. The bill also places responsibility on local and central authorities for efficient military training for students.

Critics view the bill as Beijing’s tactic of further binding its young citizens’ loyalty to the party and covering the country’s flagging economy and high youth unemployment crisis. The Global Times, quoting the National Bureau of Statistics, stated that the unemployment rate for students between the ages of 16 and 24 was 15.3% in February. According to the report, the expected college graduates of 11.7 million this year pose prolonged unemployment challenges.

Notably, a report last month on revealed that the Chinese authorities made military training compulsory for Tibetan students from class 8 in the so called China-demarcated Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as part of the Military Development Course for Youth. Simultaneously, the military recruitment age limit for Tibetans, 18 to 24, is raised to the upper limit of 26, hoping for greater application from young adult Tibetans, according to the report.

Besides the CCP’s goal of instilling ‘Chinese values’ among Tibetan youth to gain their loyalty, the report states that the genetic advantages Tibetans have over the Chinese in the high-altitude borders along the LOC with India prompted Beijing to encompass Tibetans in their military in larger numbers. China’s move to increase Tibetan recruitment in its PLA forces followed the violent clash with Indian soldiers in Galwan in 2020.

However, out of more than 7 million Tibetans recorded in the China Statistical Yearbook census data in 2021, only 7487 Tibetans are recorded as being active servicemen in the PLA, according to China’s Seventh National Census in 2020, as stated in the report last month. The report highlights the declining Tibetan applicants for Chinese military conscription. A total of 6697 applicants in 2028 decreased to 5800 in 2020 and further to 3800 in 2021, with a slight increase in 2022 at 4400 applicants. In the 2022 military conscription, Lhasa, the erstwhile capital city of Tibet, saw only 474 applicants, most of whom were non-Tibetans. Zanda County in Tibet, bordering India’s Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, witnessed only two Tibetan applicants in 2024, according to the report.

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