Vol. 15, Issue 21, 2 November 2015
One of the least transparent and least understood parts of Xi Jinping’s program to “rule the country according to law,” announced in October, 2014, is the creation of a body of military law with Chinese characteristics. Is it any more than the slogan of “Ruling the Military According to Law and Ruling the Military Strictly” (依法治军从严治军)? This article will answer that question and describe what is known about the reforms thus far.
For over ten years, within the confines of academic discourse, Chinese military legal officials—serving and retired—have pointed out weaknesses in Chinese military law. As they describe the current military legal framework, military law and military legal institutions are isolated from their civilian counterparts, legislation underpinning basic military legal institutions is missing, commanders think their word is law, and military courts and prosecutors lack professional autonomy and security.  These concerns remained the subject of academic discussion until late 2013. 
The high level policy decision to modernize military law was first flagged by the Central Committee of the Communist Party during the Third Plenum in 2013, in the Decision On Several Major Issues Of Deepening Reform (中共中央关于全面深化改革若干重大改革的决定). The Central Committee set out more details concerning its policies for military law reforms during the Fourth Plenum in October, 2014 in the Decision Concerning Several Major Issues in Comprehensively Advancing Governance According to Law (中共中央关于全面推进依法治国若干重大问题的决定) (Beijing Morning Post, October 29, 2014; Xinhua, October 28, 2014). In the Fourth Plenum Decision, the Party highlighted the importance of creating a complete body of military law with Chinese characteristics and stressing the Communist Party’s absolute leadership over the Army as a core and fundamental requirement for ruling the military according to the law. The Decision additionally called for the overhaul of all aspects of military law, as well as educating officers and soldiers that following the law is part of the new normal in the PLA (Xinhua, November 15, 2013)... Click here to read the full article. Susan Finder is Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law and Editor of the Supreme People's Court Monitor blog.