General Zhao Zongqi, the People’s Liberation Army’s Commander, who initiated the seven-month-long military standoff with India in eastern Ladakh, has been replaced with General Zhang Xudong. General Zhang has never served along the Indian border. This replacement has sparked hope in India that this replacement might improve bitter relations between both the neighbours.
Gen Zhao was also the man behind 2017 Doklam conflict with India and was seen as a hardliner against India and Bhutan. He reached the retirement age of 65 in the summer this year.
This is the first time that the PLA appointed someone to lead the Western Theatre Command who does not have experience of serving on the Indian border. General Zhang is 58 and much younger than Zhao.
An Indian military commander told the Hindustan Times that the tone and demeanour of the PLA commander during the next military commanders’ meeting would give a basic idea of the new commander.
Experts on China said that there was no information that General Zhang, unlike his predecessor, had any political ambitions. He is expected to take decisions on professional merits and his decisions are not expected to be politically motivated.
Gen Zhao took over the Western Theatre Command in 2016. He was already on an extended-term. When he reached the retirement age of 65 this summer then Chinese President Xi Jinping allowed him to continue. There was no information if General Zhao tried to resist instructions by the communist party leadership to soften his stand and de-escalate but there was a gap noticed between Chinese diplomatic talks and military actions.
The new commander, General Zhang has also served in the erstwhile Shenyang Military Region in northeast China. From March 2017 to January 2018, Zhang was appointed the deputy commander of the Central Theatre Command (CTC) which ensures the security of the Chinese capital Beijing.
General Zhang, who has been transferred to Chengdu as Western Theatre Commander, has no political portfolios. He is not a member of the central committee or the National People’s Congress. He does not have any ‘political’ influence unlike General Zhao and no known political ambitions.