General Zhang Xudong | ThePrint
General Zhang Xudong | ThePrint
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New Delhi: 58-year-old Chinese military commander General Zhang Xudong who was responsible for the military’s Western Theatre Command which borders India, died last Friday, a report in the South China Morning Post has revealed.

Chinese state media are yet to officially confirm the death. General Zhang was suffering from cancer and gastrointestinal issues, added the report.

The Western Theater Commands is one of five theater commands in China’s army following a major military reshuffle in 2016. It covers the areas of Xinjiang, Tibet and the border with India in the Himalayas.

The report highlights health risks faced by servicemen, such as Zhang and his successors, stationed at such “low-oxygen, low-temperature, high-altitude” terrains.

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Xi Jinping shuffled military leadership 3 times in 9 months

Zhang was one of three leadership changes made in the Western Theatre Command’s leadership in the past nine months.

On 23 December 2020, President Xi Jinping, who heads the Central Military Commission (CMC), appointed Zhang as commander of the military’s largest theatre command. This was six months after the Galwan Valley clash which killed at least 20 Indian soldiers.

In June this year, Zhang resigned from his post and was given a position in the CMC’s Strategic Planning Committee. He was replaced by General Xu Qiling, who earlier headed the Eastern Theatre Command.

Two months later, Xu, approximately the same age as Zhang, left his post and was replaced by Wang Haijiang. Wang was earlier commander of the Xinjiang military district.

Health risks of servicemen stationed in tough terrains

A source told the South China Morning Post that Xu, like Zhang, was facing gastric issues. “[Xu] also has some problems linked to his gastrointestinal tract…That’s why he left his post just two months after the appointment to the Western Theatre Command,” the source said.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, also quoted in the report said: “Working conditions in the low-oxygen, low-temperature, high-altitude Western Theatre Command are tough, with coronary heart disease becoming a common problem among officers and soldiers”.

Research over the last few decades indicates that since World War 1 and 2, stomach illness has been one of the top diseases faced by military servicemen.

A report by Chinese researchers published in May this year found that out of a total of 3,055 army servicemen undergoing field training in the midland of China, 896 showed symptoms of digestive problems.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

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