China appoints new military top brass in overhaul aimed at boosting professionalism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 January, 2016, 1:10am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 January, 2016, 1:10am

China has appointed three new commanders to head the land forces of the People’s Liberation Army and the new Rocket Force and Strategic Support Force, as part of the military overhaul to promote talented officers.

Among the three top leaders is General Li Zuocheng , a decorated hero of the Sino-Vietnamese war and leader of disaster relief campaigns. He is the commander of the newly established army general command.

Li, 62, led the Chengdu military region that covered Guizhou (貴州), Sichuan (四川), Tibet (西藏) and Yunnan (雲南).

Meanwhile, two other officers, Gao Jin and Wei Fenghe, were appointed as the commander for the Strategic Support Force and the Rocket Force, formerly the Second Artillery Corps that commanded strategic missiles.

Li is a native of Hunan (湖南) province, the “cradle of Chinese soliders”, and joined the PLA in 1970, aged 17. He was decorated for leading a PLA company in Guangxi (廣西) province to victory in a month-long battle during the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979. Li, then the company commander, suffered severe injuries to his right arm and hand in the conflict, for which he was officially honoured as a “combat hero”.

In the following two decades, Li was promoted to army commander. In 1998, he led his force from the front line in disaster relief operations following catastrophic floods on the Yangtze River.

Former colleagues describe Li he as a man of great courage and integrity, unwilling to be involved in under-the-table deals. That reputation was also seen as the reason he was overlooked for promotion in the following decade, acquaintances said.

Li finally joined the top ranks of PLA in 2008 when he was appointed deputy commander of the Chengdu military region, before becoming commander of the region in 2013 at age 60.

Unlike Li, Lieutenant General Gao Jin, commander of the PLA’s new established Strategic Support Force, has stronger academic background. Gao, 56, has a masters degree from the Second Artillery Engineering University, the only military school to train strategic missiles commanders.

During his career, Gao published more than 20 research papers on the use of missiles and played a key role in establishing the PLA’s Unit 15A, which oversees development of new-generation missiles, earning him several important distinctions in the army. In 2011, Gao became the chief of staff for the Second Artillery Corps and promoted to lieutenant general in 2013.

Wei Fenghe, 61, commanded the Second Artillery Corps before it was recently renamed the Rocket Force. The unit commands nuclear and conventional strategic missiles and answers directly to the Central Military Command.