The People’s Liberation Army is Not that strong. It has four weaknesses.
One, PLA is accused of being infected by the peace disease (Hépíng bìng), peacetime habits (Hépíng jixí) and peace problems (Hépíng jibì), as it has not participated in any war since 1979. This is a condition where a soldier’s casual peacetime approach while training could impact wartime combat readiness. CCP is concerned that PLA doesn’t understand the intensity of modern combat. Xi is aware of this and has introduced changes to PLA’s regime to make it train under “realistic combat conditions”. My research also indicates that the number of PLA’s bilateral-trilateral military exercises with the foreign armies has increased since 2014 to compensate for the lack of combat experience. But the impact of this change cannot be verified until PRC goes to war.
Two, PLA has been on a modernisation spree for the last two decades and has made notable progress since Xi took over as the CMC chairman in 2012. This is reflected in its defence budget, which allocates the most significant share of spending on capital expenditure. However, it has realised that the military modernisation doesn’t match with the quality of personnel employed, especially in the technology-centric services such as the navy, air force, rocket force and the strategic support force. Acknowledging these gaps, PLA altered its recruitment strategy by focusing on employing better-qualified students from specialised and technical universities. It felt the need to rework its conscription model to achieve the informatisation goal for the armed forces by 2035, which was announced by Xi in the 2017 party congress. To achieve this, CMC introduced several financial incentives to attract highly educated talent. However, despite positive inducements, recent reports suggest that the gap still exists and PLA is still facing a shortage of skilled expertise to drive its technology-centric services.
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