China names new military commander for strategically important region near North Korea

Promotion of Li Qiaoming, 56, is the latest in a series of military personnel changes that suggest Beijing wants younger leaders in prominent positions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 10:04pm

China’s military has named a new leader of its Northern Theatre Command as part of a reshuffle ahead of next month’s Communist Party congress.

Lieutenant General Li Qiaoming visited troops stationed in Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces – near the North Korean border – recently in his new role as commander of the theatre command, state news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday.

He was accompanied by General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which runs the People’s Liberation Army.

Along with the three provinces, the Northern Theatre Command also covers the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Shandong. The five areas are of strategic importance since they share borders with North Korea and Russia.

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The theatre command has held a number of drills recently that analysts believe were shows of force aimed at the United States and North Korea as tensions continue to escalate on the Korean peninsula.

US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile made time to visit the theatre command’s headquarters in Shenyang, Liaoning during a trip to China last month.

The promotion of Li, 56, to the strategically important position is the latest in a series of military personnel changes that suggest China wants younger leaders in prominent positions, observers said. Li, who is from Henan province, has been at the helm of the theatre command’s ground forces since February.

His predecessor General Song Puxuan – who is regarded as one of President Xi Jinping’s protégés – was elevated to the top job in the CMC’s Logistics Support Department earlier this month.

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Xu Guangyu, former vice-president of the People’s Liberation Army Defence Institute of China, said it was unusual for someone at Li’s rank – he became a lieutenant general only in July – to be promoted to such an important position.

“Usually the head of a theatre command will already be at the rank of a colonel general. Li will need two or three more years of experience before his rank can be raised again,” he said.

Xu added that younger leaders were important for the military. “If Li performs well, given his relative youth, he still has time to accumulate that experience and become a potential candidate for many important positions in the future.”

Five theatre commands – northern, southern, eastern, western and central – were introduced in 2016 as part of a military overhaul, replacing the seven existing military regions.