Chinese President Xi Jinping’s move promoting Xu Qiling to the rank of General to head the PLA’s Western Theatre Command overseeing the Indian border makes him the third commander to head the force after standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh began in May last year. Observers say Gen Xu’s promotion has also sparked speculation over the fate of his predecessor General Zhang Xudong.
Xi, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) - the overall high command of the People’s Liberation Army, promoted 59-year-old Xu to the rank of General - the highest rank for officers in active service in China, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The promoted officers are Commander of the PLA Southern Theater Command Wang Xiubin, Commander of the PLA Western Theater Command Xu Qiling, Commander of the PLA Army Liu Zhenli and Commander of the PLA Strategic Support Force Ju Qiansheng.
While announcing the promotion of Xu to the rank of General, Xinhua in its report referred to Xu as the Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command suggesting that he replaced General Zhang. Xu was appointed to head Western Theatre Command ground forces on June 5 last year. Xu is the third General to head the Western Command after the eastern Ladakh tensions began in May last year.
General Zhang was appointed on December 19 last year to head the command amid the Ladakh standoff with India replacing Gen. Zhao Zongqi, 65, who retired. Gen Zhao headed the Western Theatre Command during the 2017 Doklam standoff where the Indian army stood up against the PLA plan of laying a road close to the Indian border in the area claimed by Bhutan.
The Ladakh standoff also happened under the watch of Gen Zhao. Regarded as the rising star in the PLA, Xu was one of the young generals promoted by Xi after he took the helm of the PLA in late 2012.
India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year. However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong Lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.
The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points. India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang. According to military officials, each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive high altitude sector.
There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach to this issue at the 11th round of military talks.