NEW DELHI: A new Chinese commander has been appointed to take charge of military formations facing India—a region where he has no previous recorded experience—but no ground impact is expected as the operations in Ladakh are being directed by the top leadership in Beijing and all other junior commanders remain the same.

The changeover—Lt Gen Zhang Xudong takes over from Zhao Zongqi as the Western Theatre Commander—has been described by military analysts as the right timing as no action is expected on the borders through the winter months, giving him adequate time to settle in.

Zhang was previously posted at the Central Military Command—the formation that looks after the security of the capital region—and is believed to have been hand-picked by Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a trusted and loyal soldier.

The Chinese general is believed to be an expert in tank warfare, with records showing that he commanded the 79th Group Army (previously known as the 39th) that faces the threat of Soviet armour. This formation is known to have the largest number of operational tanks in the Chinese military.

Zhang moved to the central theatre in 2017 and was made its deputy commander the next year itself in a swift rise. Military analysts say the changeover is routine as Zhao was to retire last year itself after reaching the age of 65 but was delayed by a few months due to tensions in Ladakh.

“Even if the talk for disengagement continues, it is known that we cannot move troops down from Ladakh any more as the passes have closed,” said Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, who retired as the Adjutant General and has also served as the 14 Corps Commander in Ladakh. “This will go on for at least four more months and we will need to discuss things in May or June (for the next step). There is immense time available for him to settle down.”

Almost no impact of the new appointment is expected on the ground situation, even though Zhang has no prior experience, because the Ladakh crisis has been framed as a part of a larger policy decision by Beijing, officials believe. There has been little doubt within the Indian security establishment that the decision to move in close to 50,000 troops near Eastern Ladakh was taken at the highest position of power, with the military told just to execute orders.

Zhang, however, will have his plate full as the PLA’s Western Theatre Command faces some of the biggest security challenges in China. “The command looks after two of the most restive regions of China—Tibet and Xinjiang. Besides the pinpricks in Ladakh, there are issues of the Uygur concentration camps and the unrest in Tibet. Three of China’s most important projects—the Myanmar corridor, the trans-Himalayan corridor to Nepal and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor—will fall under his area of responsibility,” Lt Gen Sharma said.