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China’s military: marching in step with the law of armed conflict


Almost 15 years of cooperation between the People's Liberation Army – the world’s largest armed forces - and the ICRC have resulted in a unique relationship for the promotion of international humanitarian law.


The cover of the PLA's CD_ROM 


The General Political Department (GPD) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) recently launched a video for the instruction and training of the law of armed conflict (LoAC) – the rules, including the Geneva Conventions, that govern the behaviour of the military in wartime.

This product is a milestone in the longstanding partnership between the PLA and the ICRC and is the latest teaching tool to support their efforts to promote knowledge of International humanitarian law.

The relationship dates back to 1989 when contacts were established to invite a PLA delegation to visit ICRC headquarters in Geneva and to attend one of the military courses on LoAC at the Institute of International Humanitarian Law in San Remo, Italy. A similar visit took place the following year.

The result of these first contacts was a series of LoAC seminars conducted by ICRC Delegates to the Armed and Security Forces (ASF) in Xian in 1991 (for political commissars), in Nanjing, 1993 (army), in Guangzhou, 1995 (navy) and in Shanghai, 1997 (air force). All these events were jointly organized through the PLA’s General Political Department (GPD), the focal point for ICRC contacts and activities, and the Chinese Red Cross.

 Regular contacts with the PLA  

The opening of an ICRC regional ASF department in Bangkok in 1996 strengthened the relationship. “This allowed regular contacts with the military in Beijing, fostering the development of a comprehensive joint approach for the promotion and integration of LoAC within the PLA,” explains Aleardo Ferretti, head of the ASF unit in Bangkok.

“We were invited to lecture in two of the most prestigious military institutes – the National Defence University in Beijing and the Shijiazhuang Military Academy. We also helped to conduct the first course to train the PLA’s own LoAC instructors, in Xi'an.”

Thousands of copies of ICRC teaching materials and documents were produced in Chinese, in particular the Handbook on the law of war for armed forces , the LoAC teaching file for instructors and a compendium of various instruments regulating the conduct of hostilities and a manual on the law of the sea.

The most recent achievements include the production of a LoAC exercise at battalion level on CD_ROM, a Summary for Commanders (at company level), a Soldier's Card and a training video. The 20-minute video explains the background to the PLA’s work on instruction in LoAC and illustrates the basic principles applicable in combat/operations The video is also available in English.

Since 1998 the PLA has sent a number of officers each year to attend courses at San Remo, (Italy) and a PLA Senior Colonel was appointed as class-leader by the institute there in 2000. In the same year, China participated in the fourth Conference for Heads of Military Training in Geneva, where the President of the Xian Political Academy was one of the guest-speakers.

 Regional presence  

The PLA has sent representatives to various ICRC-organized LoAC regional seminars (1991 in Singapore and 1997 in Bangkok), as well as to those co-organized and co-sponsored by the ICRC within the framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which groups 23 countries Two such events took place in 1999 in Williamtown (Australia) and in 2001 in Bangkok.

“The positive and active regional dimension given to the training of LoAC among the armed forces of the Asia-Pacific region has been clearly recognized by the PLA,” says Aleardo Ferretti. “What makes this programme so particularly significant is that China is a reference in the field of integration of IHL for other countries " ”

Following the encouraging regional seminars in Australia and Thailand, China decided to organize its own LoAC seminar in 2003, in cooperation with the ICRC, entitled The LoAC today - Realities, perspectives and training . It had to be postponed because of the SARS outbreak in the region and will now take place at the PLA Political Academy in Xian in early June 2004.