Is China’s Military a Paper Tiger Like Russia’s?

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Is China’s Military a Paper Tiger Like Russia’s?
Is China’s Military a Paper Tiger Like Russia’s?
Photo:  © U.S. Department of Defense

Russia is stalled in a war in Ukraine that has humiliated the nation’s military. There is no link between reality and the Russian propaganda videos that show a formidable fighting machine capable of conquering the world. Russia struggles to take over its smaller neighbor with roughly one-third of its population.

On paper, the army looks formidable with several high-tech weapons and a massive array of military hardware. However, many of these systems appear to be made with inferior material and are poorly maintained. The Russian armed forces have suffered many setbacks in their battles against Ukraine’s military. Their tanks are stalled on the ground while their fighter jets have not controlled the air space. Their conscript soldiers are getting decimated, revolting against their commanding officers and deserting. Add to this the loss of several generals in a month, and the situation looks very bleak.

Massive numbers of troops and munitions play a secondary role in a battle if there is poor training, low morale, and little cohesion. Attacks upon the civilian population reveal a shameless disregard for principles. Despite Putin’s hollow claims that he is liberating fellow Slavs, he has shown no compunction in leveling Mariupol as he did in Grozny, Chechnya or Aleppo, Syria.

Thus, Russia has proven that it is not a superpower but rather a saber-rattling paper tiger! It severely overestimated its military prowess or underestimated the strength and will of Ukraine to fight, or both.

Russia’s behavior calls into question another behemoth that constantly threatens the free world, especially Taiwan—Communist China. It appears to have a more extensive and better-equipped military than Russia and also has a very active propaganda machine to trumpet its superior strength. But is it real?

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China has the world’s largest standing army and navy and an impressive air force. However, it suffers from one fatal weakness—it too is full of bravado.

President Xi Jinping has constantly instructed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to prepare for war. It has become alarmingly aggressive by making constant incursions over Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone and building up artificial militarized islands in the South China Sea.

This show of force seeks to intimidate the West into believing that a fight over Taiwan would be futile. However, the Communist Chinese military suffers from problems similar to Russia’s. Its poorly-paid conscripts also suffer from low morale and use poor equipment.

In addition, the Chinese military has three unique problems that hamper military performance.

The first is the Communist Party’s decades-long one-child policy which has created a situation whereby more than 70 percent of Chinese male soldiers are an only child. In China, children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. Thus, a death of an only son in combat might represent the loss of an entire family line and the security of aging parents. For this reason, the average Chinese citizen has little respect for the military.

The second problem is that the Chinese military lacks combat experience. The last major conflict China fought was over 40 years ago, in 1979, against combat seasoned Vietnamese troops that inflicted heavy casualties during the sloppy Chinese invasion. With little to no first-hand combat-experienced soldiers, the only thing the PLA can do is perform military exercises in the hopes that their troops will become ready for battle. However, military drills are no substitute for live action.

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The final problem is the Chinese system of conscription and troop rotation. PLA conscripts sign up for two-year stints, after which they can leave, volunteer, or apply to become non-commissioned officers. Contrary to Western militaries, China’s armed forces experience a significant turnover of conscripts who do not wish to continue in service. Every six months, 40 to 50 percent of the draftees are replaced, requiring unit leaders to achieve cohesion and military proficiency twice a year. Organizing a military in this fashion is extremely difficult and inefficient. It might look good on paper or video but does not translate into a formidable military.

Putin is consumed with hubris, believing that he would smash Ukraine in days and show the world that Russia is a world power. After watching the humiliating Russian setback, Xi Jinping has reportedly decided to postpone invading Taiwan for another four years. Xi Jinping knows that his Communist Party’s military is plagued with many of the same flaws that caused Putin to fail in Ukraine. If Xi Jinping and his advisors decide to invade Taiwan, China may also prove to be a paper tiger.

Photo Credit:  U.S. Department of Defense, Linda D. Kozaryn photographer, Public Domain

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