China announces new leadership for army unit overseeing nuclear arsenal

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China announced on Monday a new leadership for its Rocket Force, the army unit that oversees its nuclear arsenal, as media reported a corruption probe involving its former chief.

The navy’s former deputy commander Wang Houbin was named as the new commander of the force in a brief article by state media Xinhua reporting his promotion to the rank of general.

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His predecessor, Li Yuchao, has not been seen in public for weeks and the Xinhua article gave no explanation for his removal.

Citing military sources, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported last week that Li and his current and former deputies were being investigated by the Central Military Commission’s anti-corruption unit.

President Xi Jinping called last week for increasing oversight of the military and the construction of a “modern system for military governance” in remarks to top leaders.

The same day, the military department responsible for buying China’s weapons launched a crackdown on corrupt procurement practices dating back years.

Xinhua’s article on Monday also referred to Xu Xisheng as the Rocket Force’s new political commissar. Xu had previously served with the Southern Theatre Command Air Force and was also promoted to general.

It did not mention when the two men had taken up their new roles.

The lack of detailed information about such changes is not unusual in China.

The government announced last week it was replacing Qin Gang as foreign minister after he had not been seen in public for a month.

Beijing has refused to give any explanation for the removal of Qin, once considered a confidant of Xi, leading to speculation he was under investigation or had otherwise fallen from grace.

The Lowy Institute’s Richard McGregor tweeted that the lack of information around Qin’s disappearance was “a transparent example of the utter opacity of Chinese elite politics.”

The Rocket Force is a relatively new unit of the People’s Liberation Army.

Its creation was announced in January 2016 after a major reshuffle of China’s military structure.

It oversees China’s arsenal of strategic missiles, both conventional and nuclear, and can both deter and strike, according to the government.

A US intelligence report issued in March said the Rocket Force’s conventional missile capabilities “probably” pose a serious threat to US forces and bases in East Asia.

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