PLA Reshuffles Leadership, Massive Cases of Lead Poisoning, & Closer Military Ties with Latin America

Publication: China Brief Volume: 6 Issue: 18


Beijing recently instituted a new round of personnel changes among the top-ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and its sister branches, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and the Second Artillery Corps (SAC). On August 16, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Guo Boxiong announced that a deputy chief of the General Staff, Vice Admiral Wu Shengli, would be replacing Zhang Dingfa as the Commander of the PLAN (Wen Wei Po, August 19). The Commander of the PLAN has traditionally served on the CMC as well, so it is expected that Vice Admiral Wu will soon be elected as a member of the CMC at the 6th Plenary Session of the Central Committee in October. In the SAC, China’s strategic missile force, Chief of Staff Lt. General Yu Jixun became the Deputy Commander of the Second Artillery Corps, replacing Lt. Generals Zhang Rui and Zhang Xiang, both of whom have reached the mandatory retirement age of 63. At the PLAAF Headquarters, Deputy Commander Lt. General Ma Xiaotian replaced Pei Huailiang as Commandant of the National Defense University (NDU) on August 16. Ma is the first non-PLA Commandant of the NDU.


Reports have emerged that a number of villagers from Longnan City in the Gansu Province have suffered from lead poisoning. While the exact cause for the lead poisoning is unknown, it is believed that pollution from a nearby lead smelting plant, ordered to be closed down last month, is to be blamed. The actual number of victims is still unclear with some reports by international media sources claiming that nearly a thousand villagers have become victims of the poisoning (AFP, September 6). Hu Hongtao, head of the county government’s publicity department, has disputed this figure, claiming instead that 354 people, including 146 children have been confirmed of lead poisoning (Xinhua, September 6). Given that Chinese officials infamously tend to underreport actual figures, however, it is believed that the actual number of victims is much higher and will only continue to grow as additional villagers report to the hospitals.


In its latest efforts to expand its sphere of influence in Latin America, Beijing invited the military commanders of Peru and Uruguay to visit the country and to meet with members of its own military leadership. After meeting with Felipe Conde, commanding general of the Peruvian Air Force, Liang Guanglie, PLA Chief of the General Staff and member of the CMC announced that China would continue to strengthen exchanges between the militaries of the two countries (Xinhua, September 1). Conde responded by declaring that the Peruvian military would continue to enhance its mil-to-mil relations with their Chinese counterparts. Four days later, General Liang also met with Alejo Diaz, general commander of the Uruguayan Army, and Heber Fernandez, general commander of the Uruguayan Navy. At the meeting, Liang stated that China would make joint efforts with Uruguay to enhance its military exchanges. “We hope to push forward the friendly relations between the two armed forces,” added Liang (Xinhua, September 5). The following day, Zhang Li, deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA also met with the Uruguayan military delegation and briefed them on China’s national defense policy and its military modernization (Xinhua, September 6).