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China’s Xi Jinping stresses military unity after purging rocket force chiefs

BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping called for unity and stability within the military during an inspection trip, following upheaval in the highest echelons of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“We must strictly enforce the education and management of troops and maintain a high degree of unity, security and stability,” Mr Xi said during a trip to north-east China on Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

He also stressed the need to improve the level of combat readiness.

While Mr Xi has regularly stated the need for stability within the Chinese military, including during a trip to Inner Mongolia in June, his comments come after a series of abrupt personnel moves in the PLA.

Earlier in 2023, he abruptly purged two generals leading China’s secretive rocket force, which manages the country’s nuclear arsenal, without explanation.

That came shortly after he ousted Mr Qin Gang from the role of foreign minister, following the latter’s disappearance from public view for a month.

On Friday, Mr Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, linked Defence Minister Li Shangfu to those unexplained personnel moves, saying in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that the Communist Party official had not been seen in public for two weeks.

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General Li last made a public appearance on Aug 29, when he delivered a keynote speech at the 3rd China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing. He also travelled to Russia and Belarus in mid-August, where he called China’s military relationship with Russia a “model for cooperation” during a security conference in Moscow.

Unlike China’s foreign minister who makes public appearances on an at-least weekly basis, the defence minister typically has a less public profile.

China’s military in July launched an inquiry into corruption linked to procuring hardware going back to October 2017, without saying why that date was significant.

Gen Li headed the equipment department from September 2017 to 2022, though there is no sign that he is suspected of wrongdoing.

The probe is a sign that Mr Xi’s nearly decade-long drive to clean up the PLA is incomplete.

During Mr Xi’s inspection tour of the army unit in the north-east last week, he was accompanied by General Zhang Youxia, vice-chairman of China’s top military body, Xinhua reported. BLOOMBERG

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