China’s military modernisation continues with new commanders’ swift promotions

·3-min read

The Chinese military has promoted four senior officials as the country’s western and southern theatre commands, ground force and strategic support force gained new commanders.

The promotions mean half of the 10 top People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commanders, covering the five theatre commands and branches, are aged 60 or younger, in what military observers saw as reflecting the ongoing military reform, which highlights that military officers’ positions should be consistent with their ranks.

One of the generals whose promotion was revealed on Monday by state broadcaster China Central Television was Xu Qiling, 59, chief of the Western Theatre Command, which oversees areas around China’s shared border with India in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.

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Xu’s promotion came a little over a year after a bloody skirmish between his theatre and the Indian military in the Himalayas, in which 20 Indian troops and four PLA soldiers were killed.

That clash, the first deadly incident at the Himalayan border in 45 years, occurred two months after Xu swapped posts with He Weidong, 64, who is now chief of the Eastern Theatre Command, covering the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.

Xu has experience with four of the PLA’s five theatre commands. He was also chief of staff at the former 54th Army Corps, an elite PLA fighting force known for its involvement in the crackdown on a Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The three other new generals are Wang Xiubin, 57, new chief of the Southern Theatre Command, which covers the South China Sea; Liu Zhenli, 57, new chief of the ground force; and Ju Qiansheng, 59, new chief of the Strategic Support Force.

All of those promoted have risen in rank less than two years after their previous promotion. PLA tradition is for theatre command chiefs to be promoted only after staying in their previous post for more than two years, according to Taipei-based military observer Chi Le-yi.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, who chairs the Central Military Commission (CMC), introduced a military overhaul in 2015 to turn the PLA into a nimble and capable fighting force, with the ultimate goal of building a world-class modern army on a par with their American counterparts in the next three decades.

Deng Yuwen, former editor of Communist Party publication Study Times, said Xi needed to reshuffle the military leadership before the party’s National Congress next year.

Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang said he expected more promotions and retirements to be announced in the near future, and Xi’s top priority should be reshuffling the CMC leadership.

“Both of the CMC vice-chairmen, Zhang Youxia and Xu Qiliang, are over 70 – the maximum retirement age – next year, meaning the four CMC members, or those generals retired from the five theatre commands and service forces, will become hot candidates,” Liang said.

“I think [one of the four CMC members] Admiral Miao Hua, 65, who is well-known for his problem-solving skill, may replace Xu Qiliang as one of the CMC vice-chairmen, while the other one should be much younger than him.”

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