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What the Ukraine War Should Teach China

Russia’s military has performed far worse than expected in Ukraine. This does not bode well for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which shares many of the same weaknesses, some of which – such as politicization and lack of combat experience – are even more pronounced.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its fourth month, the endgame remains murky. But one thing is clear: Russia’s military has taken a beating from Ukrainian forces that, at the start of the conflict, were thought to be no match for it. For China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which shares many of the deficiencies that are undercutting Russia’s effectiveness on the battlefield, this should be a wake-up call.

One such deficiency is corruption. Of the world’s 20 largest economies, Russia rates the worst in this domain. Perhaps it should not have been surprising, then, that Russia’s military – long considered one of the world’s strongest – has been severely weakened by a variety of abuses. Judging by the number of senior generals arrested for corruption in China in the last decade, the rot inside the PLA may run just as deep.

Shortly after Xi Jinping came to power in November 2012, he launched an anti-corruption drive that, by the end of 2017, ensnared more than 100 generals. Two former vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, which commands the PLA, were arrested for taking bribes in exchange for promotions. Another member of the CMC died by suicide in 2017 while an investigation into his ties to the disgraced vice-chairmen was underway.

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