Shakeup in PLA Rocket Force

August 29, 2023

Earlier this summer, there was an unexpected shakeup in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force. Commander Li Yuchao was removed along with his deputy Liu Guangbin and a former deputy Zhang Zhenzhong. All three men are reportedly under investigation for disciplinary violations by the Central Military Commission’s anti-corruption unit. Xi Jinping appointed Wang Houbin, former deputy commander of the navy, as head of the Rocket Force, and Xu Xiesheng, from the air force as political commissar.

The PLA’s Rocket Force, established on January 1, 2016, is the successor to the Second Artillery Corps. It has responsibility for China’s growing arsenal of land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, both nuclear and conventional.

What is the significance of this reshuffle in the PLA’s most sensitive branch? What implications do the appointments of new commanders from other parts of the military have for PLA readiness and preparations for a Taiwan invasion scenario?

To discuss these questions, host Bonnie Glaser is joined by Dr. Phillip Saunders, Director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Institute of National Strategic Studies. Dr. Saunder’s most recent publication is a study he conducted with David Logan on the drivers of China’s nuclear force development. The views he expresses today are his own and do not represent the National Defense University or the US Department of Defense.

Episode Highlights:

[01:58] Unpacking the Shakeup

[04:19] Launch-on-Warning Posture

[05:34] Rooting out Corruption

[09:00] Concerns of Loyalty

[10:40] Inexperienced Leadership

[14:58] Naval Leadership of Rocket Force

[17:32] Viability of Invading Taiwan

[19:06] System for Military Governance

[21:38] Nuclear Force Development

[29:00] US-China Nuclear Dialogue