China's Military Deserves America's Respect, But Not Its Fear

Michael Peck

Key point: China's military is advancing rapidly, but it is still plagued by corruption and discipline problems.

China’s new defense white paper has been eagerly awaited by Western analysts searching for clues to Beijing’s national security strategy.

The 2019 white paper (the last one was in 2015) lays out general principles of China’s defense policy. It avows the new face of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Cyberwarfare, more flexible command and control, long-range naval operations. Change the names and numbers, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was a planning document from the U.S. military or an American thinktank.

But before we fear the onslaught of the Dragon, take a look at the problems that the white paper says China’s military must solve.

The most glaring is corruption, which has led to numerous senior officers being punished for crimes such as selling promotions. “China’s armed forces are tightening political discipline and rules, investigating and dealing strictly with grave violations of CPC discipline and state laws,” the white paper says. “China’s armed forces punish corruption in strict accordance with CPC [Communist Party] discipline and relevant laws, and rectify any malpractice in key construction projects and the procurement of equipment and material...They have worked to implement full-spectrum audit, intensify the audit of major fields, projects and funds, and perform strict audits over the economic liabilities of officers in positions of leadership. Active efforts have been made to monitor the cost-effectiveness of applied funds, conduct whole-process audit, and combine civil and military efforts in auditing.”

The U.S. military has no shortage of faults. Careerism, inflated prices for military equipment, weapons that don’t work as advertised, the revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine the Pentagon having to cite corruption as a major impediment to military efficiency.

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