China’s next defense buildup: mandatory military training for students

The proposed legislation aims to raise awareness about the importance of protecting our homeland.

China is promoting national defense awareness among children as early as elementary school, under proposed legislation which would require military training in high schools and universities.

According to a draft revision of the National Defense Education Law, the goal is to teach “theory and knowledge associated with national defence” to all members.

As tensions between the U.S. and Taiwan over the South China Sea rise, the government is amending the law for first time in 2018. Some universities already allow students to train using live ammunition and tanks.


The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress read the draft for the first time late last month. It has now been made available to the public for comment.

The draft states that elementary school students should be taught about national defense. The draft calls for the middle schoolers to be taught basic skills and knowledge, while university and high school students will undergo military training. The government and People’s Liberation Army will guide this education and training.

Local governments will have to include the costs of defense education in their budgets. Violations of the law would be punished by state agencies, universities and organizations.

The aim of the campaign is to raise public awareness that war may break out, and make it easier for them to be mobilized in an emergency. This was stated by Masafumi iida at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies. She specializes in Chinese security and foreign policies.

The Standing Committee will continue to discuss the proposed amendments. It meets in principle every two months. Legislation could be passed as soon as this year.

In July, Fuzhou University hosted a military skill competition across the Strait of Taiwan in China’s Fujian Province. Around 500 students competed at target shooting, first aid and hand grenade tossing.

China Central Television (CCTV), reported on a tank and armored personnel carrier exercise at a Guangxi Autonomous Region university. In some schools, new students are required to crawl through mud and fire rocket launchers.

China has also tried to recruit talent from all medical schools in the country. During a March visit to the Army Medical University, President Xi Jinping urged staff and students to work on the battlefield and build a world-class army school.

Recruitment of tech talent is another goal for expanding national defense education. As China rushes towards modernizing its military, experts in artificial intelligence and robotics are in high demand. Xi called these “emerging fields” in March, and asked for the military to strengthen its capabilities in them.

Iida stated that “for Chinese university leaders, earning approval from the Communist Party depends on how many good students they can send to their military.”

The revised conscription regulations in China that went into effect on May 20, 2023, state that university students are eligible to be called up. The universities are responsible for recruiting students to serve in the military. Students can now be drafted in either their hometown or their school.

According to the People’s Liberation Army Daily, the number of Chinese students who applied to join the military by 2020 exceeded 1.2 million. This is a six-fold increase in seven years. Sign-up incentives are provided by local government. Beijing, for instance, offers tuition assistance, medical insurance, and employment upon discharge from the military.