Military purge? China's Rocket Force chief, deputy 'disappears' after corruption scandal

Wang Houbin, the navy’s former deputy commander, is the new head of Rocket Force

CHINA-PARLIAMENT/  Chinese President Xi Jinping takes his oath during the Third Plenary Session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing | Reuters

China has reportedly cracked down on PLA's nuclear arsenal wing,   replacing its chief over corruption charges. PLA Rocket Force chief General Li Yuchao and his deputy has "vanished" for months, and Wang Houbin, a former Navy deputy commander, is the new department head. 

Wang will be assisted by Xu Xisheng, who will move from Southern Theatre Command to become its new political commissar.

Analysts consider the move one of the biggest unplanned shake-up in Beijing's military leadership in almost a decade. This comes soon after the country's foreign minister Qin Gang was replaced. 

The military's anti-corruption wing is reportedly investigating Li Yuchao and his current and former deputies Zhang Zhenzhong and Liu Guangbin, reported South China Morning Post. Though there have not been any official annoucements, the report added that the investigators have already "taken away" the men.

An earlier report in the South China Morning Post said the investigation began sometime in March after Gen Wei Fenghe resigned as the country's defense minister. It added that though all senior generals in the Rocket Force had good reputations before their promotion, they became "immoral after moving to Beijing headquarters, allowing them to have more chances to engage with defence-related enterprises".

According to regional analysts, the latest purge is significant. "China is undertaking one of the most profound changes in nuclear strategy in decades," Lyle Morris, a foreign policy and national security fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told BBC. Morris added that though President Xi Jinping has consolidated control of the PLA, it doesn't mean it's complete. 

"Xi is still worried about corruption in the ranks and has signalled that absolute loyalty to the [party] has not yet been achieved," Morris said.

The President had pushed for strict discipline and anti-corruption efforts within the party "to a deeper level." 

Rocket Force is the key element of the country’s nuclear deterrence and is instrumental in ramping up military pressure on Taiwan. Over the last decade, the Rocket Force has deployed modern missiles targeting Taiwan.

China had earlier too undertaken anti corruption campaign against its generals, at one point targeting hundreds of thousands of officials at all levels. Over 100 generals were punished through the drive, including the vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission. 

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