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Is China having a problem with its elite rocket forces?

Chinese Rocket Force (Photo: @Drumboy44/Twitter)

In tune with the Wagner Group’s failed mutiny against Russia, which captured global attention, Chinese President Xi Jinping too seems to be battling internal tensions though their intensity is still a matter of speculation.

Taipei Times reports from Taiwan that Xi undertook a tour of the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command following the Wagner Group revolt in a bid to strengthen his hold on the PLA and send a message to the generals over corruption. Xi’s visit that took place earlier this month sought to buttress direct control of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over the PLA.

The Eastern Theatre Command is important as it has to deal with the militaries of Taiwan, Japan and the US, where Beijing is not ruling out an attack on Taiwan in a bid to foster “reunification” with the island nation across the Taiwan Strait.

Chinese journalist Jennifer Zeng, has alluded in a series of tweets and on her video channel that senior officers of the PLA Rocket and Space Forces are in trouble over charges of corruption, resulting in demoralisation of the forces. She has linked it to Xi’s increasing insecurity and perceived threats from the PLA after the failed coup in Moscow.

Jennifer says that the purge among senior officers will likely impact Xi’s plans for a possible invasion of Taiwan.

China’s rocket forces are key to Beijing’s nuclear deterrent and any rumblings within them would obviously be of grave national and international concern.

Dr Sriparna Pathak, Associate Professor of China Studies and the Director of the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies at the OP Jindal Global University, writes that 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, was ascribed to cerebral haemorrhage.

However, it is not just Wu.

An entire chain of senior officers are reportedly facing a purge as many have disappeared or have not been seen in public. Sources say that the disappearances have been linked to investigations and elimination of corruption but in reality are rooted in fears of a PLA uprising.

Besides trouble in the Rocket Force, there has been wide reporting about China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang, which could signal further dissonance in the Chinese establishment. Qin missed out on the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting 2023 last week, which was attended by the previous foreign minister Wang Yi – now the Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC.

Analysts say that so far there has not been any convincing response from the Chinese establishment explaining foreign Minister Qin’s public absence since June 25th.

Rumours say that Qin has been punished because of his alleged affair with Phoenix TV personality Fu Xiaotian, with whom he apparently has a child. Fu has also not been heard off since April 10, after she posted from a Gulfstream Jet in Los Angeles, which was apparently flying to Beijing.

There is also a theory that Qin has had a health issue, which could be Covid, a heart attack or a stroke. But if that was the case, his convalescing pictures would have officially appeared.