China Replaces Leaders of Elite Nuclear Arsenal Unit in Unplanned Shake-up

China Replaces Leaders of Elite Nuclear Arsenal Unit in Unplanned Shake-up

China has replaced two leaders of an elite unit responsible for managing its nuclear arsenal, sparking speculation of a purge. General Li Yuchao, who previously headed the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force unit, and his deputy had been “disappeared” for months. They have now been replaced by former deputy navy chief Wang Houbin and party central committee member Xu Xisheng. This unexpected leadership shake-up is the largest in Beijing’s military leadership in nearly a decade.

The change in leadership is seen as significant as China is currently undergoing profound changes in its nuclear strategy. President Xi Jinping has consolidated control over the PLA in unprecedented ways, but concerns about corruption and loyalty within the ranks remain. In a recent meeting, President Xi emphasized the need to focus efforts on maintaining the party’s absolute leadership over the military.

There has been no official confirmation or comment from Beijing on the whereabouts or status of General Li Yuchao and his deputy General Liu Guangbin. However, a report from the South China Morning Post suggests that an anti-corruption investigation has been launched into the two men, as well as Gen Li’s former deputy Zhang Zhenzhong.

The appointments of Mr. Wang and Mr. Xu as replacements were made just before the 96th anniversary of the PLA’s founding. Both have been promoted to full general, the highest rank for active service officers in China.

This leadership change, along with the recent replacement of former foreign minister Qin Gang, presents a significant challenge for President Xi Jinping. The previous broad purge in China’s military ranks in 2014 resulted in the prosecution of high-ranking officials for corruption. So far, no explanation has been given for these recent changes in leadership.