The consensus is that China's Third Plenum, which ended last week, was a little disappointing.
While the scope and scale of economic reform is still unclear, we did learn something important: when it comes to security and defence policy, President Xi Jinping is emerging as the most powerful "paramount leader" since Deng Xiaoping.
Consolidating his position may well help keep a free-wheeling People's Liberation Army in check, but will create new risks for the region nevertheless.
At the Third Plenum, Xi's power and authority over defence and security policy was extended. Of high significance is the announcement of a National Security Council, which will co-ordinate policy covering domestic security, strategic and defence issues, and international diplomacy. Although the make-up of the body is unclear, the NSC will almost certainly be chaired by Xi or answer directly to him at the very least.
China has hundreds of security agencies, so why the fuss about one more? It is not a new idea. Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao both contemplated its creation during their tenures, before putting the idea on ice. It is well known that the NSC was opposed by the PLA, which feared the loss of its institutional and informal role in security and defence policy, and other bodies with security oversight. The fact that Xi has pushed through the NSC's creation before the end of his first year as President speaks volumes about the magnitude of his political power and standing - not just over the PLA, but other entities that previously opposed the creation of the NSC.
To be sure, something like the NSC is needed. The country's security and defence institutions have not kept pace with the growth in China's economic and military capabilities. For a country that constitutes a third of all defence spending in Asia, and with a military budget already twice that of Japan's, we know worryingly little about how decisions are made, who makes them, and for what reason.
This is where Xi's tightening grip on security and defence policy and execution could be constructive. Unlike democratic polities where civilian leaders are firmly in control of security policy and diplomacy, PLA officials have consistently led the escalation of hostile words against countries with which it has territorial disputes. In multiple cases, uniformed officers have seemingly taken charge of at-sea incidents without overt authority from their civilian masters.
An undisciplined and largely unaccountable military, fuelled by hubris and supported by double-digit annual budget increases from a deeply insecure regime, is rarely a force for stability and restraint. It is no wonder that conventional wisdom views reckless miscalculation by the PLA as the greatest danger to regional stability. The hope is that Xi, with unrivalled authority over his armed forces, can encourage and enforce restraint.
This reasoning makes sense, but centralising security and defence policy under Xi carries new risks. The President has spoken openly and passionately about his pledge to "continue the great renewal of the Chinese nation", as part of his "China Dream" message - designed to revitalise the legitimacy of the CCP and ensure its continued hold on power. Military pre-eminence in Asia is an explicit component of the dream.
A further problem is that this idea of renewal draws directly from the belief that the zenith of Chinese power under the Ming and Qing dynasties represents the natural, just and permanent state of affairs for a 5000-year-old civilisation. And this means not just retaking Tibet and Xinjiang - which has been achieved - but placing Taiwan under the mainland's control, and making good on extensive Chinese maritime claims in the East and South China seas.
Let's return to the NSC. Upon announcing the body's creation, Xi informed the country's official press that in addition to domestic unrest, China faces external pressures on safeguarding sovereignty, security and development interests - putting disputes with countries such as Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam and even India squarely on the NSC agenda.
The NSC is not just designed to institutionalise defence and security decision-making, but to ensure more effective co-ordination between all apparatus of national power to achieve CCP objectives. As Chinese officials put it last week, the NSC should cause nervousness among "terrorists, extremists and separatists" since the new body will strengthen responses against "anyone who would disrupt or sabotage China's national security".
Xi knows that a major foreign or military disaster could be fatal for a still weak CCP and would want to avoid disastrous miscalculation by an errant officer. The NSC is partly about that. It is also natural that an ambitious leader of a rising China will seek to wield the country's power more effectively. But with China undertaking the most rapid military build-up in peacetime history, growing capabilities have a habit of increasing temptation and indulging ambition. Like any great power, especially a better organised one, China is reserving the right to deploy the selective use of force as a continuation of political intercourse using other means, as Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz elegantly advised.
Powerful voices in China still insist that regional peace is essential for national renewal to succeed. But that has been true for many eras in which conflicts - large and small - were willingly entered into. Xi clearly understands the logic of peace, but also the potential utility of war if his military-first emphasis on national power is anything to go by. If northeast Asia is to avoid that fate, we need to discard the complacency that future descent into violence can only ever be the result of tragic and unintended consequence.