Xi Jinping and the Central Military Commission recognize that the introduction of advanced weaponry to a military force that is ill-trained and ill-managed will not result in a PLA that can achieve the party’s strategic objectives. However, new hardware enables Beijing to perpetuate its projected images of military strength while concealing continued shortfalls related to military reform.
U.S. defense analysts and policymakers should watch for indications of improvements across Xi’s identified critical PLA shortfall areas to generate clear and comprehensive assessments of progress within both PLA modernization and reform campaigns. Indications of continued progress can provide critical insight into party leaders’ confidence in the PLA’s ability to compete, fight, and win wars, while also highlighting areas of continued shortfall throughout the force. If military analysts and policymakers focus solely on the procurement of new hardware, longer range missiles, more capable ships, and stealthier aircraft, they risk only seeing half the picture and risk making the PLA out to be 10 feet tall.