China’s new army commander Lt Gen Xu Qiling, who will head the Western Theatre Command ground forces responsible for the Sino-India border, is a rising star in the PLA specially handpicked by President Xi Jinping to handle troops along the challenging border, a media report said.
Gen Xu’s appointment was announced on June 5 in the midst of the current standoff between Indian and Chinese troops long the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Xi, who heads the ruling Communist Party of China besides Presidency, is also the Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission which is People’s Liberation Army’s high command.
Gen Xu, the rising star of the PLA, has been sent to oversee the ground forces of the Western Theatre Command, where tensions are rising between China and India over border dispute, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
“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,” the Post quoted a military insider as saying.
“Xu is 57 years old, five years younger than his predecessor, He (Weidong). The working environment in the Western high altitude is very tough and even young people age prematurely there”, the official said.
Xu was one of the young generals promoted by Xi after he took the helm of the PLA in late 2012. Xu has experience at four of the PLA’s five theatre commands.
He was promoted to the lieutenant general last year, one year after being sent to the head the ground forces in the Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the security of Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian and Jiangxi provinces, as well as the East China Sea.
“Xu’s new position in the Western Theatre Command is also a new test for him,” the official said. “If he can handle the China-India border disputes properly, he is very likely to be further promoted to grab a seat in the PLA’s ground force headquarters, or even more senior, in the future,” he said.
Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the latest border tensions meant the Western Theatre Command required someone familiar with joint operations between ground and air forces.
“All the fighting forces Beijing sends to the frontiers were trained for air-to-ground battles, which need a capable commander like Xu to lead them.”
Xu was the 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 a military overhaul by Xi in 2015, the Post said.