(TibetanReview.net, Jul07’21) – India is closely examining President Xi Jinping’s “unusual and intriguing move” to replace the overall commander of the Western Theatre Command (WTC), which handles the entire border with India, barely seven months after he took charge, reported the timesofindia.com Jul 7.
As reported by China’s official Xinhua news agency Jul 5, Xu Qiling (58), commander of the ground forces in the western theatre until now, has been promoted to a full general. And he replaced WTC chief General Zhang Xudong, in a change that has come amidst the continuing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh since April-May last year, noted the timesofindia.com report.
Three others were also promoted to full General on Jul 5: Southern Theatre Command chief Wang Xiubin, PLA Army commander Liu Zhenli, and PLA Strategic Support (Missile) Force commander Ju Qiansheng.
“Zhang (59) had taken over as the WTC chief in December last year from Gen Zhao Zongqi, who retired at the age of 65. Nobody at that rank in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is removed within seven months. It’s definitely unusual. In effect, this is the third change in the WTC chief since the military standoff with India began,” a senior Indian official was quoted as saying.
Xu is often described as a “rising star” in the PLA and among the youngest to become a full general now, the report noted.
The report cited Indian officials as saying it was “premature” to speculate on the change in the WTC, the largest of the five Chinese theatre commands that handles the entire 3,488-km LAC from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
“Zhang could have been removed as part of the periodic anti-corruption purge by the Chinese Communist Party, which celebrated its centenary on Jul 1. Or, it could be connected to the border crisis with India. We have to wait and watch,” another Indian official was quoted as saying.
The change in the WTC leadership came ahead of the impending 12th round of corps commander-level talks between India and China, which last met on Apr 9.
Under Zhang, China has carried out over 100 drills this year close to the border in occupied Tibet region, noted an ANI news agency report Jul 7.
Xu was earlier hand-picked by President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) that controls the PLA, to be the commander of the ground forces in the WTC in June last year just a few days before the violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley. As the overall WTC chief now, he will be the key player in the protracted negotiations between India and China to defuse the border crisis, noted the timesofindia.com report.