In 2015, Beijing announced a serious reduction in military personnel. At the time, the South China Morning Post reported that 300,000 soldiers were going to lose their jobs, and more than half of those would be higher ranking officers. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) was supposedly restructuring to modernize and reduce redundancies—for example, asking for pilots for the land forces to join the navy or air force.
A number of soldiers were given civilian posts, some were encouraged to retire early, and some were dismissed with a compensation package. The whole process was set to finish in 2017. Now in 2018, China has diverted even more of its army to civilian work. The Independent reports that 60,000 soldiers are being sent inland to battle one of the world's enemies: climate change.
The majority of these soldiers will be sent to the Hebei province, which is the area encircling Beijing. The city has a notorious problem with air quality, and a blanket of smog sits over the area on most days. It's one step in China's plan to cover at least 32,400 square miles of the country in tree growth.
The country wants to increase forest coverage from 21 percent to 23 percent of its total square mileage, with an end goal for the project set at 2020. China's head of State Forestry Administration, Zhang Jianlong, told the Independent that they believe the coverage could increase to 26 percent by 2035.
"Companies, organizations and talent that specialize in greening work are all welcome to join in the country's massive greening campaign," he said. "Cooperation between government and social capital will be put on the priority list.”
According to the Asia Times, the soldiers themselves are also enthused about the prospect. A number of them will be redirected from the armed police force, which has a forestry branch that patrols the northeastern Greater Khingan mountain range. It's apparently much colder there than in Hebei, so as long as their ranks and benefits don't change, they welcome the challenge.