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Xu Qiling: The Young Commander

For well over a month, tensions between two nuclear-armed powers have quietly grown along the Sino-Indian border. Both New Delhi and Beijing accuse the other of overstepping the previously agreed upon border that separates the two, affectionately known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). During the course of the standoff, the Indian military increased deployments of border guards and artillery in the area, while the People's Liberation Army (PLA) deployed what appears to be an airborne brigade. In a bid to resolve the situation peacefully, military leaders from both the Indian and Chinese government met on May 7, 2020 in a small shack along the border. Amongst that group was Xu Qiling, the young ground force commander of China's Western Theatre Command; a true superstar in a developing fighting force.

Xu made his name as a cut throat officer while Chief of Staff of the 54th Group Army. Once regarded as one of the PLAs best units, the 54th was repeatedly called upon to do Beijing's bidding. In 1951, the Group Army was deployed to Korea as part of the second wave of Chinese forces to assist in operations against UN forces. In 1959, the 54th took part in the brutal crackdown of the Tibetan Uprising. Finally, in 1989 the 54th loaned one of its divisions to China's Central Command to help quell the Tiananmen Square protests. The 54th Group Army met its end in 2015, when it was merged into the 83rd Army Corps as part of a broader military overhaul spearheaded by President Xi Jinping.

As part of the same overhaul, Xi sought to promote the best and brightest in the PLA to positions of authority. Xu Qiling's name quickly reached Xi's desk, and the young man was promptly promoted to the disappointment of some older and envious officers.

Xu Qiling has experience in at least four of the PLA's five theatre commands. He reached the rank of Lt. General last year, less than one year after being sent to head ground forces in the Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the security of Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces, as well as parts of the East China Sea. In his new position, Xu will have command of PLA ground units along the 3,488-km-long LAC with India, and arguably one of the most difficult and volatile positions the Chinese military has to offer. Xu is overseen by General Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Western Theater Command. He is in charge of coordinating all forces on the border, including the Ground Force, Air Force, and Rocket Force. In Xu, Zhao has a reliable and intelligent subordinate who can be called upon in the most difficult and trying situations.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.


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