MH Rajesh Writes: A year after the restructuring Military Regions into Theatre Commands, the Chinese Armed Forces has proved they can be fast in transformations. The rationale of these transformations was to make PLA more joint and assume a global role for which maritime forces were an important tool of statecraft. So far its Military Regions were commanded by its Army Officers. The Theatre Commands took on legacy and inherited that structure for its first Year.
In January this year news appeared that Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai, Commander of the North Sea Fleet, became the Commander of Southern Theatre Command, which has a predominantly maritime orientation and also looks at South China Sea. He replaces an Army General, Gen Wang Jiaocheng, who with further service will move on to the Strategic Planning Committee of CMC till he reaches his retirement age of 65 for his Grade as MR Leader.
In the same churn, on 20 Jan 17 China also appointed Adm Shen Jinglong the Commander of its Navy. Shen was commanding the South Sea Fleet. Adm Shen replaces Adm Wu Shengli who had a long innings of 10 years. Admiral Wu continues to remain in service, though his role is not clear yet. What triggered the moves, could be that Adm Wu had completed 71 Years and had to be moved. Equally important could be that Southern Theatre Command, which has a maritime role had to get a Naval Commander.
These elevations left the South and North Sea Fleet Commander’s posts vacant. They have been filled by Wang Hai and Zhang Wendan respectively. Wang was Deputy Commander of PLAN and has previous experience in South Sea Fleet. He will now report to Yuan Yubai, the Theatre Commander Southern Theatre. Wang has experience in Southern Command including Command of Destroyer Chongqing, Destroyer Flotilla and First Commander of Aircraft Carrier Battlegroup. Zeng Wandan was former deputy Chief of Staff of the Southern Theatre Command.
The East Sea Fleet Command has been passed on to Wei Gang. Wei was the Commander of Lushun Naval Base and has also served as Chief of Staff of North Sea Fleet. He has also headed the Logistic Department of PLAN. The former East Sea Fleet (ESF) Commander Adm Su Zhiqian has been appointed Deputy Commander of the Navy. Adm Su has already commanded the South Sea Fleet once, and has been in Command of ESF for last 7 years, besides his tenure for a year as Commander SSF before that.
Overall these changes mark two things, first that ‘Chinese Transformation’ is going in the full pace with a Naval Officer in place as a crucial Theatre Commander. Second is the selection of New Chief of Navy which surprised several favourites as per some predictions.
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