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The People’s Liberation Army Theater Command Leadership: The Eastern Theater Command

(Source: Map by mapchat.net, image by the Project 2049 Institute.) [1]

By: Rachael Burton and Mark Stokes |

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently celebrated its 91st anniversary. By its 108th in 2035, General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is dual-hatted as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), expects the PLA to have completed the modernization of its forces. By its 123rd birthday in 2050, the PLA should fully transform into a “world-class” military. In order to achieve these goals, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the CMC aim to enhance the PLA’s strategic and combat capacity, and fortify party loyalty within the ranks of the military. At this current juncture, PLA reform and reorganization has stressed improvements in the operational capacity of the newly formed theater commands. The leadership of the five theater commands are tasked to not only follow the absolute leadership of the CCP, but also address shortfalls associated with its transition to joint-command operations.  

The establishment of the PLA Eastern Theater Command (ETC; 东部战区) on February 1, 2016 marked a milestone in the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. In addition to Army, Navy, and Air Force components, the ETC exercises operational authority over the following Military Districts: Anhui, Fujian, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fuzhou, and Jiangxi Military Districts, as well as the Shanghai Garrison.

The ETC Party Committee probably functions as the command’s senior-most policymaking body. The political commissar presumably serves as party committee secretary. The commander is the deputy secretary. Members likely include three standing deputy commanders, two standing deputy political commissars, Navy and Air Force component commanders (dual-hatted as deputy commanders), and directors of the Headquarters, Political Work, Logistics Support, and Equipment Departments.

While there has been speculation regarding reforms to the PLA rank system, grades remain the main marker. The following table charts the current PLA grade and rank structure:

The PLA’s Grade and Rank  Structure
Military, Political Officer

Grades

Primary Rank Secondary Rank
CMC Chairman

(军委主席)

 

None

CMC Vice Chairman

(军委副主席)

 

GEN

CMC Member

(军委委员)

 

GEN/ADM

TC Leader

(正战区职)

 

GEN/ADM

 

LGEN/VADM

TC Deputy Leader

(副战区职)

 

LGEN/VADM

 

MGEN/RADM

Corps Leader

(正军职)

 

MGEN/RADM

 

LGEN/VADM

Corps Deputy Leader

(副军职)

 

MGEN/RADM

 

SCOL/SCPT

Division Leader

(正师职)

 

SCOL/SCPT

 

MGEN/RADM

Division Deputy Leader

(副师职)

 

COL/CPT

 

SCOL/SCPT

Regiment Leader

(正团职)

 

COL/CPT

 

LTC/CDR

Regiment Deputy Leader

(副团职)

 

LTC/CDR

 

MAJ/LCDR

Battalion Leader

(正营职)

 

MAJ/LCDR

 

LTC/LCDR

Battalion Deputy Leader

(副营职)

 

CPT/LT

 

MAJ/LCDR

Company Leader

(正连职)

 

CPT/LT

 

1LT/LTJG

Company Deputy Leader

(副连职)

 

1LT/LTJG

 

CPT/LT

Platoon Leader

(排职)

 

2LT/ENS

 

1LT/ENS

(Reference: Directory of PRC Military Personalities (2018) p.xxxvii)

PLA Eastern Theater Command Leadership

The following are key PLA ETC officers responsible for preparing for use of force against Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC), and, by extension, the United States. Succeeding the Nanjing Military Region (NJMR), this command is a key player in directing political-military coercion against Taiwan. The ETC  is headquartered in Nanjing, the ETC Army in Fuzhou, the East Sea Fleet in Ningbo, and the Eastern Theater Air Force is based in Nanjing.

Eastern Theater Command Joint Headquarters (东部战区)

General Liu Yuejun (刘粤军 b.1954) was assigned as commander of the ETC in 2016. He previously commanded the Lanzhou Military Region (LZMR; 2012-2015), served as the LZMR Chief of Staff (2007-2012), and commanded the 42nd Group Army in Guangdong (2002-2007). Liu Yuejun reportedly commanded a company during the Vietnam border conflict (1979). He was promoted to the rank of General in 2015 and is a full member of the 19th Central Committee. His father reportedly is Liu Yide (刘义德), who was involved in political work with the 41st Group Army, where Liu Yuejun spent much of his early career with the 41st 123rd Infantry Division.

Lieutenant General (LGEN) He Ping (何平 b. 1957) was appointed as political commissar of the ETC in 2017. He replaced General Zheng Weiping, who was assigned as political commissar of the PLA Strategic Support Force. He Ping previously served as deputy political commissar of the Western Theater Command (2016-2017), political commissar of the former General Staff Department (GSD) Intelligence Department (2014-2016), deputy director of the Chengdu Military Region (CDMR) Political Department (2013-2014), political commissar of the CDMR Joint Logistics Department, and deputy political commissar of the former 14th Group Army. He was promoted to LGEN in 2017 and is a member of the 19th Central Committee.

LGEN Yang Hui (杨晖b. 1963) was assigned as an ETC deputy commander in February 2016.  He is dual-hatted as Chief of Staff, directing the ETC’s Joint Staff Department. He previously served as NMR chief of staff (2011-2016) and directed the GSD Intelligence Department (2PLA; 2007-2011). He also served as deputy commander of the 31st Group Army (2006-2007), maintained a brief affiliation with the China Institute of International Strategic Studies (CIISS; 2005-2006), and served as deputy director of the GSD Technical Reconnaissance Department (3PLA; 2001-2005). He was promoted to MGEN in 2007 and LGEN in 2013, one of the first born in the 1960s to be promoted to this grade. He served as an attaché in PRC embassies in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Yang Hui studied in Yugoslavia, received his master’s and doctorate degrees on international security and strategy, and is reportedly an expert on counter-terrorism. He was an alternate member of the 18th Central Committee and 19th Central Committee.

  • As director of the ETC Joint Staff Department, LGEN Yang Hui oversees at least three corps leader grade deputy chiefs of staff, two corps deputy leader grade assistants to the chief of staff, and at least eight division leader grade bureaus responsible for operations, intelligence, joint training, mobilization, military requirements, information support, battlefield support, and administration. In addition to an information and communications brigade, he also oversees the ETC Joint Command Center, which presumably is managed by the ETC Joint Staff Department Operations Bureau. In a contingency, centers responsible for targeting, communications, weather, survey and mapping, electronic countermeasures (ECM), and air traffic management likely would support the Joint Command Center leadership.

Major General (MGEN) Yin Hongwen (尹洪文 b. 1957) was assigned as ETC deputy political commissar in 2017. He previously served as secretary of the CMC Political Work Department General Office (2016-2018), directed the GPD General Office (总政治部秘书长; 2015-2016), and served as political commissar of Base 311 in Fujian (2011-2015). Before his assignment with Base 311, Yin directed the NJMR Political Department Organization Department, and served as political commissar of the 1st Group Army’s 1st Division. He was promoted to MGEN in 2012 and was a PLA delegate to the 19th Party Congress.

Vice Admiral (VADM) Gu Xiangbing (顾祥兵 b. 1959) was assigned as deputy commander of the Eastern Theater Command in February 2016. He is a member of the ETC Party Committee. Gu Xiangbing previously served as a deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet (2011-2016), commandant of the Submarine Academy (2009-2011), and deputy chief of staff of the North Sea Fleet (2008-2009). He rose up through the North Sea Fleet submarine community. He was promoted to RADM in July 2010 and VADM in 2017.

LGEN Sun Herong (孙和荣 b. 1957) was assigned as an ETC deputy commander in 2016. He is dual-hatted as commander of the ETC Air Force. He previously commanded the Jinan Military Region Air Force (JNMRAF; 2012-2015), served as a JNMRAF deputy commander and chief of staff (2011-2012), chief of staff of the Nanjing Military Region Air Force (NJMRAF), deputy chief of staff of the Shenyang Military Region (SYMR), and commander of the Dalian Air Command Post (2006-2007). He has a master’s degree in Engineering and is a graduate of the PLAAF Engineering University. 

Eastern Theater Command Army (东部战区陆军)

The ETC Army leadership, headquartered in Fuzhou City, oversees staff departments, three corps leader grade Group Armies, and at least three coastal defense brigades. ETC Army leaders also command information support, intelligence/reconnaissance, and electronic countermeasures (ECM) brigades. Technical reconnaissance bureaus under the former NJMR appear to have been assigned to the ETC Army, with some subordinate divisions transferred to the PLA Strategic Support Force.

LGEN Qin Weijiang (秦卫江 b. 1955) was assigned as commander of the ETC Army in 2016. He is dual-hatted as an ETC deputy commander.  He previously served as deputy commander of the NJMR (2010-2016), commanded the former 27th Group Army (2006-2010), served as deputy chief of staff of the Beijing Military Region (BJMR, 2005-2006), deputy commander of the 65th Group Army, and commanded the Shanxi Military District. Qin Weijiang was promoted to MGEN in 2000 and LGEN in 2012. He is reportedly the first military commander to be awarded a master’s degree in military science from the National Defense University (2002). His brother, MGEN Qin Tian (秦天), is reportedly the current chief of staff of the People’s Armed Police. Qin Weijiang also serves as a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and its Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Overseas Chinese Committee. He is reportedly the son of former Minister of Defense Qin Jiwei (秦基伟; 1914-1997).

LGEN Liao Keduo (廖可铎 b. 1958) was assigned as the political commissar of the ETC Army in 2016. He previously served as political commissar of the Tianjin Garrison (2015-2016), deputy director of the Beijing Military Region Political Department (2010-2012), and director of the former 38th Group Army Political Department (2006-2010). Most of his earlier career was spent within the Beijing Military Region Political Department. He was promoted to MGEN in 2008 and LGEN in 2018.

Eastern Theater Command Navy (East Sea Fleet)(东部战区海军 / 海军东海舰队)

The ETC Navy leadership, headquartered in Ningbo City, oversees staff departments, and corps and division leader grade surface, submarine, and aviation commands. In addition to communications and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) regiments, ETC Navy leaders also oversee air surveillance, observation/communications, and ECM brigades.

VADM Wei Gang (魏钢 b. 1960) was assigned as the commander of the Eastern Theater Navy (East Sea Fleet) in January 2017. He previously served as deputy commander and chief of staff of the Southern Theater Command Navy (2016), director of the PLA Navy Logistics Department (2015), deputy commander of the North Sea Fleet (2015), and deputy director of the PLA Navy Equipment Department. He was promoted to VADM in 2018 and is an alternate member of the 19th Central Committee.

MGEN Liu Qingsong (刘青松 b. 1963) was assigned as the political commissar of the ETC Navy (East Sea Fleet) in July 2018. He previously served as the deputy director of the PLAAF Political Work Department (2017-2018), and deputy director of the GZMR Air Force Political Department. Liu Qingsong is at least the second PLAAF officer assigned to a PLA Navy theater command leader grade position. He was promoted to MGEN in 2014.

Eastern Theater Command Air Force (东部战区空军)

The ETC Air Force leadership, headquartered in Nanjing City, oversees staff departments and at least two corps deputy grade base commands (former air command posts located in Shanghai and Fuzhou). They also command bomber and special aviation divisions, and fighter brigades. Leaders also direct at least three ground-based air surveillance radar brigades, surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery brigades, as well as information/communication, ECM, and UAV brigades.

LGEN Huang Guoxian (黄国显 b. 1962) was assigned as commander of the ETC Air Force in February 2016. He previously commanded the Nanjing Military Region Air Force (NJMRAF; 2013-2015), served as NJMRAF chief of staff (2011-2013), and commanded the Fuzhou Air Command Post (2005-2011) and Kunming Air Command Post (2004-2005). He was promoted to MGEN in 2009 and LGEN in 2014. He presumably oversaw implementation of East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. He is an alternate member of the 19th Central Committee.

LGEN Liu Dewei (刘德伟 b. 1959) was assigned as the political commissar of the ETC Air Force in February 2016. He is dual-hatted as an ETC deputy political commissar. He previously served as the NJMRAF political commissar (07/2015-01/2016) and deputy director of the PLAAF Political Department (2013-2015). He was promoted to MGEN in 2010 and LGEN in 2016). He serves as a member of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

[1]  Map description of plot points beginning from northernmost point moving clockwise: 1) Nanjing City: Eastern Theater Command Joint Headquarters and Eastern Theater Command Air Force, 2) Ningbo City: Eastern Theater Command Navy (East Sea Fleet), 3) Fuzhou City: Eastern Theater Command Army, 4) Zhangzhou City: Zhangzhou Military subdistrict, Fujian Reserve Logistics Support Brigade, Training Base (73501), 5) Shangrao City: Shangrao Military subdistrict, Jiangxi Army Reserve Artillery Brigade, 815th Mobile Launch Brigade/1st Conventional Missile Brigade. Reference: Directory of PRC Military Personalities (2018).

Rachael Burton is the Deputy Director at the Project 2049 Institute where she manages the Institute’s research and program development. She currently studies the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy, U.S.-Taiwan relations, and U.S. policy towards Burma (Myanmar).

Mark Stokes is the Executive Director at the Project 2049 Institute.

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