Postcard from Beijing

  • @cliffordcoonan

It’s a common sight on the streets of Beijing and other cities – a hefty Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, pictured, worth around £270,000, with distinctive white number plates signifying the vehicle belongs to the army. In the back seat, stuffed with department store bags, sits a decidedly un-military looking shopping posse. Or a Bentley overtaking a line of traffic near the Great Wall, which has long ceased to have any military significance.

The Chinese government’s new rules aimed at stopping government officials abusing their positions has forced the People’s Liberation Army to introduce a ban on the use of military number plates on Porsches and other luxury cars,

Drivers of military vehicles are entitled to privileges including exemptions from paying road tolls and parking fees.

Inevitably, these benefits have led some to create fake military licence plates, as well as abuse of genuine number plates, and the private use of military vehicles by government officials and wealthy individuals who are not supposed to use them.

The new ruling was ordered by the Central Military Commission, of which President Xi Jinping is chairman, and is part of the military’s effort to reinforce discipline and protect its image, according to an article in the PLA Daily, the armed forces’ official newspaper.

“The military must tackle corruption on wheels before it can improve its ability to safeguard the country,” the PLA Daily said.

Online commentators were sceptical. “This system will only scratch the surface. It won’t last long. After a while, it will go back as before.”