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China appoints veteran PLA border General to NPC panel

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A veteran Chinese General who oversaw the military’s border command during a turbulent period in relations with India was on Sunday appointed to the top parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, a move seen as a post-retirement reward.

General Zhao Zongqi, who turned 65 last year and handed over the leadership of the military’s Western Theatre Command, its biggest military command responsible for the India border, will serve as the vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) special committee on foreign affairs.

The announcement came ahead of the annual convening of the NPC, which is China’s Communist Party-controlled and largely ceremonial legislature, on March 5. The NPC has ten special committees, whose role is to “research, deliberate, draw up bills or proposals related to their fields” and “assist the NPC and its Standing Committee in legislation, supervision and other areas.”

As a member of the foreign affairs committee, which is headed by former executive vice foreign minister and diplomat Zhang Yesui, the retired General can put forward policy proposals and bills for the legislature to pass.

The NPC convenes every year and approves policies, including an annual government work report that sets the policy agenda, as well as the defence budget for the military.

Wider deployment

Among the proposals that it will debate next week is one calling for a wider deployment of more advanced drones along border areas, with a legislator proposing the move in the wake of last year’s clash between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Hou Yun, commander of a border defence regiment with the PLA Tibet Military Command who is among the military’s NPC delegates, told State media he will submit a proposal “suggesting that China should enhance border management and control by deploying more smart equipment like drones, as his experience and research indicate huge room for improvement despite the wide use of such devices” by the military. The June 15, 2020 clash in the Galwan Valley has been among the most widely discussed subjects ahead of this year’s session, in the wake of the PLA’s announcement on February 19, honouring five soldiers, four of them posthumously.

General Zhao retired from the PLA last year and handed over the reins of the Western Theatre Command, which he has led since its formation in February 2016, when President Xi Jinping put in place sweeping reforms consolidating the seven military regions into five commands with the aim of increasing jointness and integration between different services.

He was in charge during the 2017 Doklam crisis and also during the current tensions along the LAC which erupted in early May. He has been replaced by Zhang Xudong, who has no prior experience in the Western Theatre, Tibet or Xinjiang, having spent much of his career in the northeastern Shenyang Military Region (now under the Northern Theatre Command) and since 2017 as the Commander of Central Theatre Command, which is responsible for the security of the capital, Beijing.