China Redeploys Top Naval Leaders for the Taiwan Strait

Chinese naval leadership
(Image courtesy PLA Navy)

Published Aug 18, 2022 3:51 PM by Brian Gicheru Kinyua

As tension along the Taiwan Strait continues to deepen, China has reportedly promoted its Coast Guard Chief Wang Zhongcai to naval commander in charge of the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait. They took this action as China continues its unrelenting efforts to escalate military exercises in the region.

According to Chinese media, Major General Wang Zhongcai recently attended a meeting in Ningbo in his new capacity as the commander of the Chinese Navy Eastern Theater Command.

Since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this month, China’s military posture towards Taiwan has increased. They conducted large-scale military exercises around Taiwan from August 4 through to August 10 that many western observers consider quite telling. On Monday, coordinated to a second visit by U.S. Congressional members, China's People's Liberation Army, the Defense Ministry, and its Eastern Theater Command announced additional drills in the seas and skies surrounding Taiwan.

Major Wang Zhongcai has had a marked career at the China Coast Guard, overseeing several incursions into the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. Wang’s promotion to the top naval post in the East China Sea could grant him more power to add military pressure on Taiwan and Japan.

Wang Zhongcai joined the Coast Guard from the Navy in 2018 helping to lead some historical reforms. It is during his term that Beijing upgraded the Coast Guard, giving it power on par with the military. A new policy came into place allowing the Coast Guard to use force when China’s sovereignty is infringed by foreign vessels. The Coast Guard’s command was also placed under Central Military Commission, which is China’s military top decision-making body.

Meanwhile, Mei Wen, who served as a political commissar on China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has also been redeployed to the Eastern Theater Command, still as a political commissioner. In the position, which is considered equal to that of commander, he will be working jointly with Zhongcai.

“China has decided to deploy top talent to the areas facing the most intense tensions. They may be looking at operating an aircraft carrier around Taiwan,” said Yasuyuki Sugiura, a senior researcher at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies.

Other analysts in the region believe Pelosi’s visit could have given China the one opportunity it has been waiting for to grow its belligerence towards Taiwan. The re-organization of the Eastern Command naval leadership may be the first manifestation of this fact.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.