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China appoints Wang Houbin as chief to clean up PLA Rocket Forces 

President Xi Jinping (centre) with China’s top military leadership

China has appointed General Wang Houbin, former naval deputy commander, as the head of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Forces (PLARF). The elite PLARF has been embroiled in corruption scandals and has been be-deviled by disappearances and deaths among its top leadership.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) says that in another important appointment, Xu Xisheng will move from Southern Theatre Command to become its new political commissar. Their appointments were announced as both Wang and Xu were promoted from the rank of lieutenant general to full general at a ceremony on Monday.

Senior PLARF commanders are under investigation by the Central Military Commission’s (CMC) anti-corruption unit. These include former commander Li Yuchao and his deputies Zhang Zhenzhong and Liu Guangbin. The changes and the investigations at the PLARF are part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.

Wu Guoua, the deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) reportedly died by suicide on June 6, 2023. The death, which took place the same day as President Xi was taking a tour of the Eastern Theatre Command, which faces Taiwan, was ascribed to cerebral haemorrhage.

There have been other rumblings in China. Foreign Minister Qin Gang, whose disappearance from public view was speculated globally, was recently replaced by previous foreign minister Wang Yi.

The recent activities at PLARF are important as it maintains conventional and nuclear warheads for China and would spearhead any possible offensive that Beijing may unleash on Taiwan – which China considers a part of the mainland that has to be united.

Recently, PLARF is known to be upgrading its missile systems and is deploying additional missiles facing Taiwan and other nations in the Asia-Pacific.

Chinese journalist Jennifer Zeng had recently pointed out in a series of tweets that senior officers of the PLARF are facing investigation over charges of corruption, resulting in demoralisation of the forces. She also linked it to President Xi’s fears about insecurity from the PLA after the aborted Wagner Group’s coup in Moscow.

Meanwhile, one day ahead of China’s Army Day on 01 August, Xi, who is also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) urged enhancing military preparedness in an address to the air force of the Western Theater Command of the PLA.

Xi said that the Communist Party must maintain leadership over the armed forces in ideological, political, and organizational terms, adding that there has to be faster induction of acquiring new equipment and forces, which have to be integrated into the current combat systems. He also wanted continuous efforts to carry out training under real combat conditions.