China’s President reshuffles PLA border command leadership amid India stand-off

An Indian army convoy, carrying reinforcements and supplies, travels towards Leh through Zoji La, a high mountain pass bordering China in Ladakh. File photo for representation only.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

China’s President Xi Jinping has replaced the head of the military’s Western Theatre Command which borders India, appointing a new General to lead the military’s biggest command.

Mr. Xi on Monday promoted four senior military officers, including one who has been at the centre of the border tensions with India as the head of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Ground Forces or Army in the border Western Theatre Command, to the highest rank of General.

Also read: A year on, unanswered questions, sparse details in China’s accounts of Galwan clash

Mr. Xi, who also heads the Central Military Commission (CMC), presented the certificates of the orders to them at a ceremony held by the CMC on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The promoted officers were named as Xu Qiling, Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, Wang Xiubin, Commander of the Southern Theatre Command, Liu Zhenli, Commander of the PLA Army, and Ju Qiansheng, Commander of the PLA Strategic Support Force.

General Xu becomes one of the PLA’s youngest Generals, the highest-rank for active officers. The announcement suggests General Xu has replaced General Zhang Xudong as the Commander of the Western Theatre. General Zhang was only appointed as Commander in December 2020, and observers said his tenure ending within seven months would be highly unusual as per past practice.

As of Tuesday, there was no official statement on why General Zhang has been replaced and where he has been posted, although his biography on Baidu, China’s Google equivalent, was on Tuesday updated to describe him as the “former” Commander of the Western Theatre.

The current thinking among Indian military planners is that the April mass mobilisation by the PLA and subsequent multiple LAC transgressions, coming after annual summer exercises, was likely planned at the level of the Western Theatre Command, and that the higher levels, such as the Central Military Commission headed by Mr. Xi, were most likely only involved after the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley.

In December 2020, seven months into the tensions, General Zhang took over as Commander of the entire Western Theater Command overseeing all its forces, replacing General Zhao Zongqi, the long-standing Commander, who retired at 65. In March, 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 Xu (59) now becomes the third head of the Command since tensions began. He was appointed under General Zhang, as Commander of the Western Theatre’s Ground Forces or Army, on June 1, 2020, around a month into the tensions and before the June 15, 2020 Galwan Valley clash.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 3:44:44 PM |

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