Xu Qiling has been at the centre of the border tensions with India as the head of the People’s Liberation Army’s Ground Forces or Army in the border Western Theatre Command
China’s President Xi Jinping has 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.
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, then Lieutenant General, is now one of the PLA’s youngest Generals, the highest-rank for active officers.
He was first publicly confirmed 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. He is thought to have taken charge a little before the first public confirmation on June 1 by the Western Theatre’s WeChat account.
The current thinking among Indian military planners is that the April mass mobilisation by the PLA and subsequent multiple Line of Actual Control 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.
A year on, unanswered questions, sparse details in China’s accounts of Galwan clash
The command at the time was headed by General Zhao Zongqi. In December 2020, General Zhang Xudong, who was awarded the rank of General that same month, took over as Commander of the entire Western Theatre Command overseeing all its forces, replacing General Zhao, 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.
At the time of General Xu’s appointment in June, the South China Morning Post reported he was “a rising star” in the army and one of the youngest Lieutenant Generals appointed by Mr. Xi and was earlier 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 army corps was merged into the 83rd Army Corps in 2015.
“As tensions with India are escalating over border disputes, the Western Theatre Command needs a younger commander to lead frontier soldiers and officers in this current sensitive period,” an unnamed military insider told the South China Morning Post, adding that “Xu is 57 years old, five years younger than his predecessor.”