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China appoints elite army unit head as new army commander in Tibet

(TibetanReview.net, Apr30’21) – China has appointed a new commander in the Tibet military region of the Western Theatre Command, its largest military area, reported the scmp.com Apr 29. Zhou Chenming, a Beijing based military analyst, has maintained that the appointment was just a normal reshuffle of personnel according to age and speciality, and should not be over interpreted, possibly suggesting otherwise. 

Wang Kai, the 58-year-old new commander, comes from an army group with decades of fighting experience, the report cited an official military social media account as saying.

The report said Lieutenant General Wang Kai appeared in a Communist Party history education class on Apr 26 as the new commander of the Tibet military region.

The party history education programme is a nationwide campaign for the party’s centenary and is meant to foster army allegiance to China’s ruling party.

Song Zhongping, a former instructor with the China’s People’s Liberation Army, has said Wang Kai’s promotion was related to his rich combat experience, as the Tibet region was an area of concern for Beijing.

“Beijing needs an experienced commander to supervise this region and keep the Chinese border safe, preventing another deadly conflict like the one [in Ladakh] that happened last year,” Song has said, adding the promotion was also linked to his past working experience and performance.

The report said the significant promotion for Wang Kai’s had come after he took control of China’s elite 13th Group Army eight years ago.

Dubbed “Tiger in the mountains”, the Chongqing-based 13th Group Army is one of the most famous army units in China, specialising in fighting in tough landscapes, such as mountains, highlands and tropical jungles, the report cited local media as saying.

It noted that the 13th Group Army was regarded as the only Chinese force to have taken part in combat missions since 1949. It has the most battle honours of any Chinese group army since the Korean war in the 1950s.

Most of its troops are believed to be in Yunnan province as its major tasks include ensuring the stability of Tibet and guarding the borders with India and Vietnam. It took part in the crackdown on riots in Tibet and skirmishes on the border with India, the report noted.

Its former commanders were stated to include General Zhang Youxia, now the second-ranked vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, the Chinese military’s highest decision-making body headed by President Xi Jinping.

Zhao Zongqi was also stated to have been a commander of this unit, before he became commander of the Western Theatre Command in Feb 2016. During his term in the Western Theatre, he oversaw China’s response to the 2017 Doklam stand-off and managed the 2020 stand-off with India in Ladakh, the report said.

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