China has appointed a new Army General to oversee the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Ground Forces on the India border, amid ongoing tensions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The new appointment was first publicly confirmed in a report on June 1, that identified Lieutenant General Xu Qiling as the new commander of the PLA Western Theater Command Ground Force, or Army.
Lt Gen Xu will report to General Zhao Zongqi, who is commander of the Western Theater Command and oversees all forces there, including the Ground Force or Army, Air Force and Rocket Force. The command is responsible for the India border and is the biggest of five theater commands. Theater commands are usually headed by generals.
Gen. Zhao was also the Western Theater Commander during the 2017 Doklam stand-off. In October 2017, he was also appointed to the Communist Party’s 19th Central Committee.
Gen. Zhao’s counterpart in the Eastern Theater Command, General He Weidong, was previously in charge of the PLA’s Ground Forces in the west, before his promotion in January to head the entire Eastern Theater Command.
Lt. Gen Xu’s appointment can be thought of a lateral move, as he previously held the same position in the Eastern Theater Command as Commander of its Ground Forces.
Indian and Chinese forces have been in stand-offs along the LAC since early May. Talks will be held at the Lieutenant-General level on June 6 to resolve the situation.
Two former Indian Generals said Wednesday that the current stand-offs were different from past incidents, which were generally localised. The scale of the stand-offs in at least four different spots on the LAC and in two sectors suggested a higher level of planning, they said.
“The fact of the matter is some kind of planning has gone through before these multiple face-offs,” said Lt Gen (retd) S.L. Narasimhan, Member, National Security Advisory Board. “Earlier, they used to take place in one place. This time there have been multiple face-offs and geographically spaced out, in Sikkim, Pangong Tso and Galwan. The kind of numbers we see is also not what we saw earlier, and the aggression has been more than normal.”
“Normal face-offs happen every year, they don’t lead to these kind of incidents,” added Lt Gen (retd) D.S. Hooda, former Northern Army Commander. “This is much more serious. They have come completely well prepared and prepared to do things by force. We have never seen this level of violence.”
The Western Theater Command will be the point of responsibility for managing the situation, and Lt Gen Xu and Gen Zhao are likely to be involved in the decision-making.
Only in January, India’s then Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh headed a delegation to China, and met with Gen Zhao at the command’s headquarters in Chengdu in a visit aimed at improving communication between the militaries.