(Bloomberg) — A Lunar New Year resolution for China’s
military officers could be to hit the gym and shed some pounds.

Weight will now be a consideration when promoting People’s
Liberation Army officers, according to a rule on physical
fitness announced by China’s military authorities.

Linking weight to military advancement is part of efforts
to control obesity in the world’s largest standing army, with
the goal of ensuring 95 percent of soldiers meet the “standard
weight” by 2020, according to an announcement posted Friday on
the Defense Ministry’s website. That’s even as it relaxes health
and weight requirements for new recruits.

Without giving specifics on the latest rule, the ministry
said China is seeking to improve both the physical and mental
health of its soldiers to build a force that can “match the
features of modern war and to meet the standard to fight and win

President Xi Jinping has called on the military to improve
its combat readiness and “sharpen the ability to win a regional
war.” China is becoming more assertive as it presses its
territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea and
builds out longer-range military capacity to lessen U.S.
influence in Asia.

The military has also became a target of the president’s
anti-corruption campaign with more than a dozen high-profile
officers charged with violations, including former former PLA
deputy commander-in-chief Xu Caihou.

China’s military suffers from “potentially serious
weaknesses” that could limit its ability to fight and win wars,
Rand Corp. said in a report commissioned by a U.S. congressional
committee and released this week. Challenges include the poor
quality of its personnel, a lack of professionalism and
corruption, it said.

Failing Exams

Efforts by the military to attract better-educated recruits
to match its modern weaponry have been hampered by a decline in
the health of candidates. According to Beijing’s army
recruitment office, some 60 percent of college students fail the
physical fitness examination, with most graduates being
overweight, the China Daily reported in August 2013.

The average Chinese soldier is now 2 centimeters taller and
has a waist 5 centimeters larger than 20 years ago, the paper
reported in February last year, saying some were too big to fit
comfortably inside tanks.

The military last June relaxed its physical standards to
attract better-educated recruits, the China Daily reported at
the time, citing the Defense Ministry. The height requirement
for a male candidate was lowered two centimeters to 1.6 meters
(5 foot 2 inches) and the upper weight limit eased. Eyesight
standards were also loosened, as nearly 70 percent of high
school and college students in China are short-sighted, it said.

The weight of senior leaders in China is generally not
publicized. When a nine-year-old boy wrote to Xi — the top
ranking military official as chairman of the Central Military
Commission — in December suggesting that “Xi Dada, you could
lose some weight,” the letter was pulled from major news sites.
Major General Mao Xinyu, the grandson of Mao Zedong, has been
mocked by Internet users for his girth.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story:
Keith Zhai in Beijing at
[email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Rosalind Mathieson at
[email protected]
Greg Ahlstrand