By on April 29, 2013

Thousands of Chinese have to say zai jian (good bye) to a cherished symbol of wealth and power: Their white military license plate. “China’s new leadership is seeking to dismantle a system of privilege which has allowed the drivers of military vehicles to do as they please on the road,” writes Reuters. “On Sunday the Chinese military began replacing license plates on its cars and trucks to crack down on legions of vehicles, many of them plush luxury brands, which routinely break traffic laws and fill up with free gas.”

Don’t think these “military vehicles” were all drab and green. Says Reuters:

“Luxury sedans and sport utility vehicles with PLA and People’s Armed Police license plates gliding through red lights or flashing lights and sirens to push aside cars in front of them are a common sight in China.”

Friends and family members received military plates as favors. This was exacerbated by a flood of fake military plates

This is about to change. The new plates are electronic ally encoded. The number of people entitled to use military plates will be drastically curtailed. White plates must be removed from luxury vehicles. Says China’s state-controlled Xinhua News Service:

“Luxury vehicles were specified as those with the marks Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac, Volkswagen Phaeton, Bentley, Jaguar, Porsche, and any car with an emission above 3.0 and priced over 450,000 yuan (72,990 U.S. dollars), as well as SUVs including Land Rover, Porsche Cayenne, and Audi Q7, among others.”

Beijing had previously announced plans to stop government agencies from buying foreign cars. TTAC never took these plans seriously, and they were roundly ignored. The new plan seems to have more bite and less bark. One indication: “Absent from Xinhua’s published list,” says Reuters, “were Audi sedans, the clear preference among Chinese officials with access to government cars.” By excluding Audi from the banned list, the Chinese government signals that this time, it means it.

However, there is very little the new policy can achieve against a tactic described by to the South China Morning Post Professor Chen Jierong , who teaches law at Sichuan University in Chengdu:

“It is a common practice in Beijing for an Audi A8, with a real [military] plate, real paperwork and a real driver in a military uniform, to be leased out by a senior military officer to a businessman,” he said. “The businessman pays 800,000 yuan a year but gets many benefits in return, such as giving others the impression that he has strong ties to the military. It happens not only in Beijing, but in every city.”

The professor figures that the new regulations would reduce the number of luxury cars with military plates on China’s street only for a while. “I am sure many expensive cars with military plates will re-emerge soon,” he said. “They have been banned five times over the last few decades, but more emerged after each ban. This time will be the same.”

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12 Comments on “China Cracks Down On Military Plate Abuse...”

  • avatar

    So, general, what kind of vehicle do we need to set the Japanese straight on the issue of the little island? We might need to invade. A Cayenne sounds about right.

  • avatar

    “By excluding Audi from the banned list, the Chinese government signals that this time, it means it.”

    Is this sarcastic? I don’t understand this part.

    • 0 avatar


      1) Government won’t ban government cars.
      2) If the list includes Audi the government car, it doesn’t mean it, due to item 1.
      3) If the list doesn’t includes Audi the government car, it may mean it.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      This doesn’t make sense to me either. The list of brands outlined cars considered “luxury” and therefore unreasonable to be considered a military vehicle. Excluding Audi would mean that they are not considered luxury vehicles, so white plate abuse can continue.

      None of this has anything to do with discouraging foreign car purchases.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s see if I can explain it

      Audi is not perceived as a Luxury brand as much as BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac etc.

      I think this is partially because so many Audi’s and so many VW’s look alike.

      Government officials like Audi’s because they are not “flashy” so it shows they are trying to be “humble servants to the people” All the Chinese know it’s a joke but this is that whole face issue again.

      What is true and what can be said to “save face” are entirely different.

      I find this thing funny because Chinese like flashy sparkly chrome covered vehicles but they don’t want them necessarily because it says the wrong thing about the owner. (ie he’s corrupt and stealing money from somewhere, even though they all do it and it’s a laughable open secret)

      Hence Audi does well and the flashier brands don’t get the government money.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Four legs for you, comrade!”
    “What about you?”
    “Ha, I need my hands to write the regulations. Can’t write calligraphy with hooves.”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Ah, the spirit of free enterprise! In China, it’s in it’s purest form, the drive for personal gain. The Chinese government will get a handle on it when they realize they can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

    The way to harness it is through taxation, with a system of tax credits and deductions that the government can control, not with periodic bans and new regulations that are quickly undermined, bypassed or evaded.

    Wall Street was reformed after the Crash of 1929 when one of Wall Street’s slickest operators was put in charge of the newly formed SEC. He took the job only because his fortune was made off-limits and he got the payoff of an ambassadorship. The Chinese will need a practitioner to write the new rules.

  • avatar

    We’ve had similar issues here with Congressional license plates and diplomatic plates. Everyone just wants to be special.

  • avatar

    At least someone still thinks Lincoln is a luxury marque?

  • avatar

    As for the abuses of the military, do they think changing plates is going to make a difference?

    The military cars will still park on the sidewalk, they will still run red lights, they will still ignore traffic tickets.

    Police will continue to ignore them and nothing will change.

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