By José Carlos Palma*
China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) has experienced significant leadership changes and corruption probes, raising questions about political stability and strategic priorities in the Chinese military. The recent removal of top aerospace-defense executives and military officials has created a notable shift in the leadership landscape.
The turmoil began in March 2023 with the scheduled resignation of former Rocket Force commander Wei Fenghe, followed by the replacement of Li Shangfu as China’s defense minister. Subsequent months saw the removal of key Rocket Force figures, including Li Yuchao, Xu Zhongbo, Liu Guangbin, and Zhang Zhenzhong, amid allegations of embezzlement and espionage. In July 2023, Foreign Minister Qin Gang and PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) Commander Ju Qiansheng faced investigations, contributing to a broader anti-corruption campaign extending to the entire PLA and Chinese Communist Party.
The shake-up intensified in September with the removal of Cheng Dongfang and Li Shangfu from key positions, both having close ties to the Rocket Force. The recent removal of nine senior military officials, including former PLARF commander Zhou Yaning, PLARF armaments department head Lu Hong, and former PLARF deputy Li Chuanguang, further deepened the crisis.
Notably, the replacements chosen by President Xi Jinping suggest a shift toward a more aggressive strategic posture. Dong Jun, the new defense minister and former PLA Navy commander, becomes the first naval officer in this role, potentially signaling a shift away from the corruption scandals plaguing the Rocket Force and PLASSF. Other replacements, such as Wang Yi as foreign minister, Wang Houbin, and Xu Xisheng in the Rocket Force, and Zhang Youxia and Liu Zhenli in other military roles, reflect Xi’s emphasis on loyalty and military command experience.
Xi’s selections align with his priorities for officials, focusing on political loyalty to himself and military command experience. The ongoing investigations and leadership changes indicate Xi’s dissatisfaction with technocrats in his administration, signaling a desire to replace them with more assertive commanders capable of realizing his ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.
The broader impact of these leadership changes on China’s military capabilities and strategic direction remains uncertain. However, the aggressive and uncompromising stance of the newly appointed officials suggests a more assertive role for the PLA shortly, with potential implications for regional stability and geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific.
* Expert in international relations, such as foreign policy, international trade, domestic security, international security, developing nations, domestic security, intelligence, IT Consultant, world history, political consultant, and military analysis.