Johannes Feige has an article in The Diplomat entitled “How Well Does China Control Its Military?” in which he details incidents that “[suggest] weakness in coordination between the center and the military, and [help] explain numerous episodes where the civilian apparatus seemed oblivious to the PLA’s activities and confused about officers’ statements that made the PLA appear ‘rogue.’” Add to Feige’s list the extended PLA incursion into the Indian side of the disputed border while Xi Jinping was visiting Narendra Modi, and it becomes hard to shake off the feeling that you have an unsavory choice between a party leadership a) eager to use physical intimidation as part of their top-level diplomacy toolkit or b) unable to rein in a military that does not hesitate to undermine and embarrass it in order to pursue its own somewhat ill-defined agenda.
One thing that cannot be too emphasized is that the notion that Xi Jinping’s brief tour as a political official in the PLA is enough to provide him with a significant influence there is nonsense. Anyone with experience in the stove-piped public sectors of East Asia will know that officials seconded from an outside institution remains an outsider no matter how well received on a personal basis. The people Xi became acquainted with in the PLA and has remained in touch with—not to mention any other princeling officers that he knew from an earlier stage in life—will certainly help him navigate his way around there as required. But the prerogatives of the institution will prevail every time.