In an interesting turn of events, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) named General Li Qiaoming its new Ground Force Commander. General Li previously served as the Commander of a significant command that bordered North Korea and Russia.
In September 2022, there were speculations on social media indicating that a military coup was underway in China and General Li Qiaoming had replaced Xi Jinping as the Chinese President. These rumors set social media abuzz, with popular Indian social media accounts fiercely promoting it.
At the time, Indian politician Subramanian Swamy said in a tweet: “When Xi was in Samarkand recently, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were supposed to have removed Xi from the Party’s in-charge of Army. Then House arrest followed. So goes the rumor.”
New rumour to be checked out: Is Xi jingping under house arrest in Beijing ? When Xi was in Samarkand recently, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were supposed to have removed Xi from the Party’s in-charge of Army. Then House arrest followed. So goes the rumour.
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) September 24, 2022
As it turns out, the news was merely a rumor. A month later, in October, Li was elected to the Communist Party’s 20th Central Committee, which is in charge of choosing the members of the Standing Committee and the Politburo.
This indicates that while Li may not be replacing Xi, he may have impressed the President, who keeps a tight grip on the Chinese Communist Party.
In a significant turnaround of events, the 61-year-old Li made his debut as the Commander of the PLA Ground Forces on January 4, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. He had reportedly resigned from the position of Northern Theater Commander three months ago.
Li’s previous position was also critical as the Northern Theatre Command is strategically significant. It includes the autonomous area of Inner Mongolia and Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces, which border Russia, North Korea, and Mongolia. It also incorporates Shandong, located across a narrow stretch of sea from the Korean peninsula.
According to a post shared by the ground force’s official WeChat account, Li was introduced as the Commander of the PLA’s land-based branch during a ceremony to start training in the New Year, attended by over 1,000 soldiers. The appointment is especially noteworthy as Li is relatively young to hold such a position.
Li received a promotion to general in December 2019, the highest rank an officer may achieve while serving in China’s military. His appointment could be part of a new policy of the Central Military Commission (CMC) to promote new and young talent to the higher echelons.
After purging several high-ranking military officials in his campaign against corruption and introducing reforms, Xi started to promote young officers who were not much influenced by several top military officials caught in the anti-graft campaign.
Li’s appointment may or may not have been affected by that. If some reports are anything to go by, President Xi has been very impressed by General Li recently.
Xi Jinping Resonated With General Li’s Ideas
Li, born in the island province of Henan, enlisted in the military at the age of 15. He spent years serving in the Guangzhou Military Region, which was dismantled in 2016 and reorganized as the Southern Theatre Command.
He served as the chief of staff, corps commander, and major general for the 41st Army, among other important posts, in the region.
Li argued in a 2013 article published in the government-owned political publication Red Flag Manuscript that the Soviet Union fell apart because the Party disarmed itself.
“The Communist Party of the Soviet Union gave up its leadership over the Army, and the Army stood by at the country’s critical moment. In the end, the Soviet Union fell apart, and the [Party] fell apart. The lesson is profound,” he wrote.
This analysis resonated with Xi Jinping, who wanted to expand control over the Central Military Commission and the People’s Liberation Army- a feat he has successfully achieved since he was first elected President.
On his part, Li continued to write studies of military tactics and conflict resolution on subjects including Russia’s incursions into Syria and Crimea in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Li relocated to the coastal province of Shandong to join the Northern Theatre Command as a lieutenant general following a significant military reform in 2015 that led to the creation of the five theatre commands. Later, he was elevated to the role of Commander of the theatre, which he held for five years before resigning in September 2022.
Li was preceded in the role by 58-year-old General Liu Zhenli, who served as ground force commander from June 2021 to December 2022. Liu is currently serving as the chief of staff of the Central Military Commission, which houses the headquarters of the PLA.
The ascent to power of Li and Liu has been interpreted as a hint that Beijing wishes to elevate relatively younger individuals to important positions. However, both appointments are crucial as China has been expanding its regional influence while engaging in great power competition with the United States and its allies in the Asia Pacific.
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