On 28 July, the United States announced $345 million in military aid to Taiwan, highlighting the strained relationship between China and the United States. In the meantime, China’s top political advisor and President Xi Jinping’s second-in-command, Wang Huning, visited Tibet, emphasizing Beijing’s control over the region.
Investigation and Leadership Changes in China’s Military
China’s military has seen a significant shake-up, with General Li Yuchao and his deputy disappearing for months, triggering speculation of a purge. The South China Morning Post reported that Li Yuchao had been under investigation by anti-corruption forces.
Replacements: Former deputy navy chief Wang Houbin and party central committee member Xu Xisheng were named as replacements.
Significance: This is the largest unplanned shake-up in Beijing’s military leadership in nearly a decade.
Context: South China Morning Post has previously reported anti-corruption investigations within the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Rocket Force. Lyle Morris, a foreign policy expert, described the change as one of the most profound shifts in China’s nuclear strategy in decades.
31st World University Games and Diplomatic Tensions
On 28 July, Beijing held the opening ceremony of the 31st World University Games in Chengdu, where world leaders were present.
However, tensions arose when India withdrew its entire wushu (martial arts) team from participating in the games. China issued stapled visas to three athletes from Arunachal Pradesh, which led to the team being stopped at the Indira Gandhi International Airport by immigration officials.
Stapled Visas: Pekingnology, a newsletter, cited foreign minister Wang Yi’s remarks, calling stapled visas a ‘goodwill’ gesture, though not mentioning the India-China border dispute.
Border Dispute: The visa issue underlines Beijing’s strategy to negotiate from a position of strength, notably concerning areas in eastern Ladakh.
BRICS Meeting and China’s Global South Strategy
During the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg on 25 July 2023, China called for increasing representation of the Global South in the reforms of the global governance system.
Beijing’s Perspective: China’s understanding of the Global South includes New Delhi as a junior partner, and the move to ignore the border dispute with India is seen as part of this strategy.
Internal Challenges and Anti-Corruption Drive
The recent replacement of General Li Yuchao and his deputy is not an isolated incident but is a part of China’s broader anti-corruption efforts:
Purges and Prosecutions: The replacement of top military officers and the anti-corruption investigations signify President Xi’s commitment to rooting out corruption within the ranks of the military.
Leadership Challenges: General Li’s downfall, along with recent changes in foreign ministry leadership, presents one of the most significant leadership challenges for President Xi in recent times.
Regional Influence and Relationship with Neighbors
China’s stance in regional matters and its relationship with neighboring countries is becoming more nuanced:
Strategy with India: Ignoring the border dispute and calling for resumed business activities is part of Beijing’s strategy to negotiate from a position of strength. This is reflective of China’s broader approach to tying down India’s options.
Influence over the Global South: China’s call for increased representation of the Global South is an attempt to position itself as a leader in regional order, with other countries like India becoming junior partners.
President Xi Jinping’s Military Control and Anti-Corruption Efforts
President Xi has consolidated control of the PLA in unprecedented ways. At a recent meeting, he emphasized the need to maintain the party’s absolute leadership over the military.
Worries: Despite consolidations, Xi remains concerned about corruption in the ranks and seeks absolute loyalty to the party.
Historical Purges: In 2014, a broad purge in China’s military resulted in prosecutions for corruption.
China’s latest military leadership changes and strategic diplomatic moves reflect a nuanced approach to both internal military affairs and international relationships. The shake-up in the PLA’s leadership, U.S. military aid to Taiwan, tensions with India, and the ongoing attempts to negotiate with emerging economies collectively illustrate the complexity of China’s current geopolitical landscape.