HomeTrending96 Years Of PLA: Is China's military a liability for Xi Jinping?

96 Years Of PLA: Is China’s military a liability for Xi Jinping?

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) celebrates its 96th birthday on August 1. The PLA, the largest military in the world, with a budget of $224.8 billion and employs over two million soldiers.

But is the PLA prepared for conflict, despite its size, resources, newly adopted aggressive policy, and expanding territorial ambitions, particularly in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean Region?

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, which began its modernization project in 2015, has witnessed significant investment in its efforts to build cutting-edge military hardware. This initiative also intended to modernise the PLA’s weaponry, sensors, and combat platforms.

However, according to PLA Daily, Beijing’s plans to modernise its military continue to be plagued by a trained labour shortage, which is still a source for concern.

According to a different report from October 2022, China is having trouble finding enough qualified pilots to fly fighter jets from aircraft carriers. This spurred the PLA-Navy, which has two aircraft carriers that have been put into service and another that is waiting to be put into service, to expedite the pilot training programme.

To operate the specially designed J-15 jets from the aircraft carriers, the PLA-N is having difficulty keeping up with the rising demand for qualified ship-borne fighter jet pilots.

According to a South China Morning Post article from February of this year, the Chinese Navy intends to hire women and recent graduates to work as aircraft carrier-based pilots.

This is due to the two aircraft carriers’ lack of certified pilots to fly its ship-borne aircraft.

On Monday, a recruitment announcement was published on the PLA-N’s official WeChat account, encouraging young people to “devote their youth to building a world-class navy and contributing to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation!”

As evidenced by the ongoing conflict between the armed forces in the Ladakh region, the majority of the PLA’s soldiers lack the motivation and will to fight against other armies, particularly voluntary forces like the Indian Army.

President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CCP) even neglected to recognise the “sacrifices” made by their soldiers, with the number of casualties ranging from 4 to 40 during the violent hand-to-hand battle between the PLA and the Indian Army at Galwan in June 2020.

Only a few of the dead PLA soldiers from the battle in the Galwan Valley had to be reluctantly acknowledged by China months later.

With troops of Tibetan descent actively participating in the military operations from the Indian side and even risking their lives and limbs to ensure an Indian moral superiority in the Ladakh conflict, the Indian Army also outsmarted the PLA with its stealth manoeuvre to occupy the heights on the Kailash Ranges months later.

In a paper titled “Equipment Awaiting Talent,” the lack of qualified staff to operate the newly created high-tech modernised equipment and the lack of qualified individuals in commanding positions, which results in a capability gap, were underlined.

Relevantly, the lack of military experience among many inspectors of the production of guns and weapons makes it difficult for them to carry out their job duties, which include the development and testing of cutting-edge technology.

This exposes a serious problem with the PLA hierarchy. The disparity in training resources is expected to prevent Beijing from fully utilising its allegedly “state-of-the-art” military hardware. The discrepancy, along with the PLA’s lack of accountability, have made it possible for corruption in the ranks of the Chinese military.

In 2019, R. Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs at the US State Department, claimed that China had used its “arms transfer” to both assert influence and take advantage of its suppliers “through a combination of cut-rate pricing systems such as predatory financing mechanisms and sometimes outright bribery.”

The Rand Corporation, a US-based research organisation, also notes in a report from 2021 that “China has failed to spur military innovation on its own,” making Chinese military sales unreliable due to their subpar quality. Therefore, Beijing’s military equipment’s subpar quality and workmanship continue to be a big obstacle in the way of arms deals with its customers.

Asian nations like Thailand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal appear to have discovered this lesson the hard way. For instance, a study on Bangladesh in 2021 that raised concerns about the Chinese military’s quality drew people’s attention.

The two Ming-class Type 035G submarines (BNS Nobojatra and BNS Joyjatra) that China donated to Dhaka in 2017 are still experiencing serious mechanical problems and are in need of urgent repairs.

Additionally, it has been discovered that frigates of Type 053H3 have a number of issues with their sensors and weaponry. Pakistan confronts comparable difficulties when it comes to the joint manufacture of JF-17 fighters or WL II UCAVs provided by China.

According to reports, Nepal also grounded six aeroplanes constructed in Beijing last year because they were deemed unaffordable for travel due to their low serviceability rates and high maintenance expenses.

Reports of casualties have also appeared as a result of China’s deliberate sale of low-quality military weaponry to economically fragile nations like South Asia while projecting itself as a kind nation.

The significance ascribed to China as a major global arms exporter has decreased, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) most recent research from 2023, which shows a decline of around 23% in Chinese arms exports.

The research also highlights the unexpected trend of a decline in arms export, even to Africa, where Russia has overtaken China as the continent’s top supplier of weapons.

This shows the true picture of the PLA’s perceived capabilities, which differs greatly from actual circumstances, the helpless feelings of economically weaker countries, and scepticism on their part. It also shows that Chinese blunders are now viewed with care around the world.