Is the Chinese Military Crumbling Under Xi? It Seems Like It...

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Xi Jinping appears to have a problem with corruption and discipline in his military, which is 1) not a good thing when it's your primary means of subjugating folks around you and 2) entirely expected where Communist regimes are concerned.

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The Chinese President is calling for “deep reflection” among his military forces as he renews his focus on corruption, which has plagued China in recent months. His call comes after what the Wall Street Journal describes as a "purge that has brought down more than a dozen senior generals and defense-industry executives."

Recently, Xi was embarrassed to find that missiles were filled with water rather than fuel, with officials pocketing the money meant to make the missiles fly.

US intelligence indicates that President Xi Jinping’s sweeping military purge came after it emerged that widespread corruption undermined his efforts to modernize the armed forces and raised questions about China’s ability to fight a war, according to people familiar with the assessments.

The corruption inside China’s Rocket Force and throughout the nation’s defense industrial base is so extensive that US officials now believe Xi is less likely to contemplate major military action in the coming years than would otherwise have been the case, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence.

The rapid growth of China's military appears to have led to plenty of self-interested bureaucrats taking advantage and enriching themselves. Along with the water-filled missiles, there are also reports of "vast fields of missile silos in western China with lids that don’t function in a way that would allow the missiles to launch effectively."

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Xi's call for more discipline and less corruption is not a good look for someone who is supposed to be exerting complete control over his country through the power he's seized. The fact that he has to give such a speech shows the weakness inherent in a top-down dictatorship that is run via mandate and bureaucracy and with few checks and balances. Corruption can and does exist in every form of government (Hello, Senator Bob Menendez), but it's much easier to replace our corrupt officials than it is for China to even find theirs.

For years, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has been certain that China was ascendant. But recent civil unrest and these military corruption accusations, as well as China's dependency on stolen technology to develop their own systems, weapons, etc., can give one pause.

I wrote as much when the story of the water-filled missiles broke.

But is the U.S. overestimating China's rapid rise? 

There is a lot of reason to believe that China is a global adversary - they've said as much in response to U.S. actions over the years - and the question often seems to be less "if" we'll go to war with China and more "when." But what little reporting we get out of China does suggest that the economic and military rise of China in the modern era may have already peaked.

It's impossible to say for sure, considering we are flying blind when it comes to gathering intelligence. But what we do know is that China isn't without its own issues, and that may benefit the U.S. in the long run.

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I don't know if China is on the rise, has plateaued, or is on the decline. But what I do know is that, on our end, we need better leadership to handle it.

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