China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday promoted a new General to head the military’s Western Theatre Command which borders India, state media reported, unusually marking a third change in the command’s leadership in the past nine months amid the continuing stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India.
Mr. Xi, who is Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), on Monday “presented certificates of order at a ceremony to promote five senior military officers to the rank of general”, the highest rank for officers in service.
“The promoted officers are Commander of the Western Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army Wang Haijiang, Commander of the PLA Central Theatre Command Lin Xiangyang, Commander of the PLA Navy Dong Jun, Commander of the PLA Air Force Chang Dingqiu, and President of the PLA National Defence University Xu Xueqiang,” the state media said.
It remains unclear what is the current position of the incumbent, General Xu Qiling, who in July was similarly promoted as General and named Commander of the Western Theatre Command. Last month, General Wang, then a Lieutenant General, was named Commander of the Xinjiang region, which is under the Western Command.
Monday’s announcement named General Wang as “Commander of the Western Theatre Command” and did not say where General Xu, who is 59 and well below the retirement age of 65, now serves. His biography on Baidu, China’s Google equivalent search engine, was on Monday updated to describe him as former Western Theatre Commander, leading one post on Baidu to ask why the Western Command’s leadership was changed after two months and was being changed so frequently.
The Western Theatre Command leadership has undergone several changes in the past year in the wake of the retirement in December 2020 of the long-serving General Zhao Zongqi who headed the command since its inception. That month, General Zhang Xudong took over as Commander, while General Zhao was rewarded with a post-retirement appointment as the Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) or parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, a top advisory body. General Zhang was then replaced in July by General Xu.
General Wang may now be the fourth head of the command since the border tensions began. He has particular expertise in the Western Theatre, having earlier served as Commander of the Tibet military region, which also borders India, and previously deputy commander of the southern Xinjiang military region, which is the military region that has been directly engaged with India during the LAC crisis that began in the summer of 2020.