China's draconian "one-child" population controls are affecting the country's military readiness, according to an article circulating in state-run media.
The article, originally attributed to Japan's Asahi Shimbun but picked up by China's official Xinhua news agency, reflects current thinking in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which fears an aging population will shrink the pool of potential military recruits, analysts said.
PLA strategists are also concerned that China's new generation of "little emperors," only children who are used to attracting all their family's attention and resources, make young Chinese people particularly unsuited for conflict, whether literal or psychological.
"PLA analyses recognize that ... because of the one-child policy, young people are pampered and may therefore be more psychologically brittle and less capable of handling stress," wrote Dean Cheng, a research fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, in an article published in July on the foundation's website.
Cheng's article set out the primacy of psychological warfare in PLA strategy, adding that: "Defensive psychological measures are therefore seen as an essential means of limiting the impact of wartime pressures on [young people]."
In the article carried by Xinhua, the one-child policy is also blamed for a lack of discipline among existing PLA troops.
"Soldiers listen to music players when they are lying concealed on military exercises," the article states, by way of example. "This means that their opponents discover them very easily."
Future at stake
The article quotes an unnamed military source as saying that the future of the PLA may be at stake through demographic changes alone.
"If the population controls remain in place, then this is going to endanger the future of the military," the article quoted the source as saying.
The number of "young people" in Beijing shrank from 560,000 in 2008 to just 300,000 in 2012, it said.
But Toledo University international politics professor Ran Bogong said the PLA's appeal as a way of bettering one's position in life remained.
"A lot of families in rural areas are still encouraging their young people to join the military," Ran said.
"And the PLA doesn't need as many young people as there are in the population."
According to U.S.-based political scholar Wang Juntao, the PLA's biggest challenge now lies with ensuring quality and training among the armed forces.
"All that the one-child policy does is to affect the population figures in the recruitment pool," Wang said.
"What they need is to set up an elite army, and then the problems caused by the one-child policy can be addressed through training."
He said disciplinary problems within the PLA were as much a product of authoritarian leadership by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as family planning controls.
"A Chinese scholar has written a book arguing in favor of political reforms as a way of improving the effectiveness of the country's administration, as well as boosting the country's capacity to leverage natural resources overseas," Wang said.
"He says that democratic countries with a constitutional government are more effective at mobilizing people and accessing resources."
"That's because the citizens of such countries share a sense of mastery and responsibility ... while the Chinese leadership is either the product of factional strife, or the party of princelings," Wang said.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.