Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refashioned his nation’s military with the aim of making it the dominant force in Asia.
He is well on his way to achieving that goal: The Chinese military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, is rapidly closing the gap on U.S. firepower and in some vital areas has already surpassed it.
In just over two decades, China has built a force of conventional missiles that rival or outperform those in the U.S. armory.
Its shipyards have spawned the world’s biggest navy, which now rules the waves in East Asia - and Chinese submarines that can launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are now going out on regular patrols, giving Beijing a powerful second-strike capability.
According to the official state-controlled media, Xi has purged more than 100 generals accused of corruption or disloyalty.
He has replaced them with a clique of staunch allies, cementing his hold over the military.
Xi’s transformation of the PLA heralds dramatic change: it means American victory over China in a regional war is no longer assured.
For the first time in five centuries, China now has the military power to dominate its near seas.
Serving and retired senior American officers say that would make a U.S.-China conflict in these waters, particularly over Taiwan, destructive and bloody.
American leaders have begun to recognize that the military balance in Asia is fast tipping in China’s favor.
Now, after decades of seeking engagement with Beijing, the United States is boosting defense spending, rebuilding its navy and urgently developing new weapons.
It’s also expanding military ties with regional allies including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Despite Xi’s assertive moves, some Chinese officers and strategists say the PLA is still not ready to compete with the United States and other advanced military powers.
They point to the PLA’s technological shortcomings, its failure to introduce effective command and control, and most importantly its lack of combat experience - the last time the Chinese military went to war was 40 years ago - a cross-border confrontation with Vietnam in 1979.
There are no signs, however, that Xi Jinping is letting up in his drive to transform the Chinese military into a potent fighting force.
He has abandoned the more cautious approach of his predecessors.
For China’s leader, the waiting game is over.