India is rejoicing the exit of Zhao Zongqi – the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Western Theatre Commander chief. General Zhao Zongqi is seen as the man directly responsible for the Chinese army’s aggressive stance at the Ladakh border where the two countries have been locked in a standoff for over seven months now.
Zhao reached the retirement age of 65 earlier this year, but was allowed to continue by President Xi Jinping. He had served the PLA since 1984. A hardliner against India and Bhutan, Zhao is said to be involved in the 2017 Doklam military stand-off in the trijunction of Bhutan, China, and India.
A report in Hindustan Times has stated that Zhao’s exit has “sparked hope in New Delhi” that his replacement may not be as “vitriolically anti-India”. An Indian military commander has told HT that the “tone and demeanor of the PLA commander” during the next military commanders’ meeting would throw some light on the complex undercurrents in the PLA.
Considered close to President Xi, Zhao served in the Tibetan Military District for 20 years and was heading the Western Command since 2016.
With a thriving career and with the image of being ruthless in carrying out his operations, Chinese observers believe Zhao has eyed a position in the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Chinese Communist Party’s highest decision-making body in military affairs, as it would have allowed him to serve till the age of 72.
There have been gaps in the line adopted by China during the diplomatic talks and the military negotiations, indicating “possible resistance from Zhao to soften position, disengage and de-escalate”, sources told HT.
Grasping at straws: Given that China's aggression against India since April has been spearheaded by Xi, how can the replacement of a military commander who crossed retirement age months ago offer a ray of hope? He was let go only after harsh winter set in. https://t.co/GqBOOkAYrL
— Brahma Chellaney (@Chellaney) December 21, 2020
After the 15 June violent clash in the Galwan Valley, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, New Delhi had assessed that Zhao had Xi’s approval for the initial incursion into an area near Pangong Tso but the deadly clash had created some problem.
Zhao will be succeeded by General Zhang Xudong, who has never served along the Indian border. His area of operations includes the erstwhile Shenyang Military Region in northeast China. The region is now superseded by the Northern Theater Command.
Unlike his predecessor, Zhang is not a member of the Central Committee or the National People’s Congress and does not have any ‘political’ exposure’.