What China’s Potemkin Missiles Say About China, and Us
Bloomberg had a doozy of a report based on US intelligence that explained China’s recent purge of the senior ranks of the People’s Liberation Army. I hadn’t commented on why Xi Jinping was cleaning house in the name of corruption because it didn’t seem like there was much to say.
There is, of course, alway corruption to purge, and this kind of thing has been an intermittent part of Xi’s reign. Plus, corruption is detrimental to military readiness, troop morale, and the ability to adapt on the battlefield. So not so surprising except perhaps the scale of the purge.
So what’s the goss?
Bloomberg’s sources say that Xi found out that many of China’s missiles were nonfunctional, even filled with water (!) rather than fuel:1
US assessments cited several examples of the impact of graft, including ... vast fields of missile silos in western China with lids that don’t function in a way that would allow the missiles to launch effectively, one of the people said.
It’s rare that I find any specific piece of foreign-policy news important, but this news actually affects how we think about a lot of stuff—China’s military strategy, its intentions, and what that means for what we do.
Let me explain.