A shake-up in China’s nuclear command

China’s President Xi Jinping replaced two top commanders of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) earlier this week.

The shake-up in the PLARF, which manages China’s land-based nuclear arsenal, made waves for a couple of reasons:

  1. 🕵️ The commanders were removed without explanation and haven’t been seen publicly in weeks, and
  2. 🆕 For the first time in decades, the new leaders – one from the navy, the other from the air force – have never served in the PLARF.

Intrigue’s take: Shake-ups like this usually come down to one of two things: corruption or disloyalty. In this case, there’s speculation it could be both.

China is undertaking a rapid expansion and modernisation of its nuclear arsenal, which means plenty of cash has been flowing through the PLARF.

But for Xi, who undertook a widespread purge of the military after taking office in 2012, political disloyalty might be the bigger concern.

Also worth noting:

  • Authorities said last week they were investigating allegations of military personnel “forming cliques and colluding in private” [link in Mandarin, but most web browsers can translate].
  • China currently has around 400 nuclear warheads, with estimates this number could reach 1,500 by 2035. The US currently has around 3,700 warheads. Russia has around 4,500.
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