THE CHINESE General, responsible for the area on the Sikkim border where the Indian and Chinese armies are in a standoff for the past 23 days, had visited India last December, where he had also met the present Army chief General Bipin Rawat. General Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Chinese Western Theatre Command, who is responsible for the Indian border, has around one-third of the 2.26-million strong Chinese military under his command since February 2016. He was on a three-day visit to India from December 8 to 10 last year, where he had met the then Army chief, General Dalbir Singh, then Army vice-chief and current chief, General Bipin Rawat and the Eastern Army Commander, Lt General Praveen Bakshi.
As per the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) website, General Zongqi had then “exchanged views on mil-to-mil relations between the two countries and especially the cooperation between the PLA Western Theater Command and the Indian military”. The two sides had also agreed to “try best to make positive contributions to the healthy and stable development of the relations between the two countries and the two militaries”.
Former additional secretary of R&AW and China expert Jayadeva Ranade says, “General Zhao Zongqi is a very senior member of the Communist Party…he is a member of the central committee. But he will not act unless the Central Military Commission (CMC) has approved the action. The CMC basically means President Xi Jinping, who is the commissioner of CMC. President Xi has taken up the Western Theatre Command as a pilot project — to shape it as something like the American Central Command and he personally chose Zongqi, that says it all.”
Sources told The Sunday Express that the Chinese troops arrayed against the Indian soldiers in Dolam plateau since June 16 are from PLA’s 6 Border Defence (BD) regiment (Unit-77649) in Tibet. General Zhao Zongqi had served in Tibet for over two decades, including as the commander of 52 Mountain Brigade in the early 1990s. He is considered to be a military commander with experience that demonstrates extensive operational knowledge of mountain warfare, and is considered to be one of the rising stars of the Chinese military under President Xi.
General Zhao Zongqi is highly rated because he is one of the few Chinese military commanders who fought in the 1979 China-Vietnam War, where he also went undercover. He is also fluent in Arabic and Tibetan. “This man (General Zhao Zongqi) will certainly bring a close direction to conflict because of his battle experience, which puts him in a different category. As he has good equation with the PLA (A) chief, he will get the resources that he needs — bringing troops is not an issue for him,” said Ranade.