The Galwan clash of June 2020 gutted the edifice of cooperation between India and the People’s Republic of China [PRC], which had been cautiously built up by Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping over several years. It was a continuation and escalation of the policy clash over India between the President and some key officers in the People’s Liberation Army. The origins of the bloody confrontation in Galwan are the subject of this essay. It is based largely on evidence from PRC sources [that includes Hong Kong sources], with some additional use of Indian sources.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in 2019.
An earlier essay (on the author’s website) advanced the thesis that India was a major cause of frictions between President Xi Jinping and the People’s Liberation Army. A great deal of evidence points to the fact that President Xi would like to see an early settlement of the territorial dispute with India, whereas the PLA prefers to continue to put military pressure on India. Their aims are similar to an extent: both seek to prevent India from drawing closer to the western system.
But the PLA appears to have additional aims as well, and that is probably the cause of the frictions between the two. The PLA is concerned with the improvement of the infrastructure that India has undertaken in the border area, especially in what is called the Sub-Sector North, shown in the map below.
 The author is grateful to former Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai, for this map. Place names highlighted by author.
The target appears to be Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), where India has revived an old airfield. Its location allows it to dominate Xinjiang and the Karakoram Pass to the north, Aksai Chin to the east, and Gilgit-Baltistan to the west. The PRC has a tenuous hold in all three areas [the last under the illegal occupation of Pakistan].
This is the main reason that the PLA – and we are really talking about the Ground Forces – is continually provoking conflict in the region, and not allowing the diplomatic dialogue to make any progress. Despite several false dawns, most importantly in 2005 and then in 2018-19, the PLA has resorted to extreme measures to prevent a settlement.
A likely secondary factor is the close relationship between the PLA and the Pakistan Army, built up over the decades, which makes the former sensitive to the concerns of the latter. And the latter was shaken by the constitutional changes introduced by India in August 2019 regarding Article 370 and Article 35A, in the status of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which the Pakistan Army has coveted for decades, and tried – but failed – to take by force. But this would be a definite secondary factor, and the entire PRC system would abandon Pakistan without a backward glance if the alternative were attractive enough or compelling enough.
There is evidence enough to say this. In 1996, President Jiang Zemin became the first Party and State leader to visit India; from India, he went to Pakistan and made a speech to the Senate there: it was all about India and China, although he used the term “South Asia” to soften the blow for his hosts. He spoke of Harappa, of travels by Chinese monks in ancient times, naming Fa Hsien and Hsuan-Tsang, and he referred to Panch Sheel. His hosts were understandably miffed.
It might be worth asking why President Jiang paid the first-ever such visit to India, and make the kind of remarks he did. The answer is to be found in the worsening relations between the US and Beijing, with the visit by then-President of Taiwan, Lee Teng-hui to his alma mater, Cornell University. This was also the time when US think tanks were beginning to re-assess the US’ relationship with India and were beginning to see it as a balancer in Asia in the face of growing Chinese power. The military establishment in the US was especially concerned over this issue, and had begun its outreach to India in the early 1990’s.
In recent days, a noted “wolf journalist” – Alex Lo – writing in the South China Morning Post quite bluntly blamed Beijing for the tense state of relations between India and the PRC, especially its stonewalling over negotiations after Galwan. He suggested that it was Chinese policies that were forcing India closer to the US and noted that it was not yet too late for Beijing to change course.
With this background, what follows is an attempt at taking the narrative forward from where the earlier essay left off.
Once the Doklam confrontation was over in late August 2017, the BRICS Summit in Xiamen was able to take place as scheduled; in the wake of the stand-off, which required President Xi to sack Gen Fang Fenghui, Chief of the Joint Staff Department in the Central Military Commission [CMC], and Gen Zhang Yang, the Chief of the Political Work Department in the CMC, both Indian and Chinese leaders presumably agreed that informal summits, without the presence of large delegations and fixed agenda and schedules for discussion would be more productive.
The first of these informal summits took place shortly after, in late April 2018. Both sides were careful to manage the information flow, and very little of substance has come out even years later. There was a joint statement covering the entire range of issues between the two countries, including economic cooperation, terrorism, climate, etc. They also agreed that the informal meeting had been useful, and the pattern should be continued. Striking a personal note, President Xi emphasized that he had done only two summits with a foreign leader outside of Beijing, and both were with PM Modi.
One thought that figured repeatedly in the statement was the need for stability and peace at the border. Here is the most important passage:
To this end, they issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs. The two leaders further directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence building measures agreed upon between the two sides…
The curiosity here is the use of the term “strategic guidance” from the leaders to the respective militaries; most political leaderships issue directions, as was done in the same sentence later in the passage quoted. But that a leader, who is regarded as all-powerful, has to give guidance to his military is unusual.
Certain concomitant aspects of the issues involved are worth noting here. Some time after [in May 2019, to be precise] the summit, the PRC lifted its hold at the UN on designating Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group, as a terrorist under the UN Sanctions Committee. The significance of this decision was in the fact that the PRC had been blocking such a decision since 2009, shortly after the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008.
Earlier, the PRC had been restrained in its reaction to Indian air strikes inside Pakistan territory in Balakot in late February 2019, as reprisal for a terror attack in J&K Pulwama District, in which some forty paramilitary personnel were killed. The Foreign Ministry spokesman had called for maximum restraint, and PRC Deputy Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, had visited Pakistan, counselling restraint on both sides.
The biggest challenge to the emerging accommodation between PM Modi and President Xi was the constitutional change introduced by India in the status of J&K in August 2019, soon after the decisive election victory of the BJP in the May elections. Pakistan was, as expected, greatly agitated [though it had also made changes in its part of J&K under illegal occupation] and the PRC had also been active in raising the issue in the UN.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi had sought a discussion in the Security Council in August itself, despite the Indian Foreign Minister having been to Beijing to explain the situation, and to clarify that the changes would have no effect on the India-China border. However, the efforts of the US, Russia, and France thwarted the effort to involve the Security Council in the J&K issue.
Meanwhile, the second informal summit was being planned, amid some uncertainty about whether it would take place as a result of these frictions. One early negative sign was the Indian decision to postpone the visit of Wang Yi, due in early September 2019, for border discussions with the Indian National Security Adviser. While no official explanation was given for this move, it would be reasonable to deduce that this was a signal of Indian displeasure over his personal role in agitating the Kashmir issue in the UN.
In spite of all these negative developments, President Xi visited India for the second informal summit, in Mamallapuram, Chennai, on 11-12 October 2019, though the formal announcement was made just two days prior to the actual visit. This was very likely a result of differences within the PRC leadership over whether to go ahead with the visit, given all that had happened in the months preceding.
Confirmation of this may be found in an article by Dr Liu Zongyi, Secretary General of the South Asia and China Center, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, written after the Chennai Summit, but before the Galwan fighting. According to him,
President Xi Jinping ironed out difficulties and participated in the second informal meeting at Chennai, which also showed political support for PM Modi.
Obviously, there were no differences to iron out between India and the PRC, since both were agreed that the meeting should go ahead. That would imply, and can only refer to, internal difficulties that President Xi overcame and decided to go ahead with the planned visit. The full article is worth reading as it brings out the optimism and substantive plans for the future of the two countries, as planned by PM Modi and President Xi.
But it also contains the cautionary observation that, Both sides must be clear that although the development of China-India relations has got an ultimate guarantee, it is still fragile. The further development of China-India relations needs to overcome obstacles, enlarge the consensus and move incrementally.
The ultimate guarantee, according to the author, was that the two leaders were determined to not only maintain peace, but to develop ties for the next century – and yet, he adds, it is fragile, and needs to overcome obstacles. Again and again, this note of caution appears in PRC messaging, sometimes supplemented by adding that the two militaries need to communicate more effectively.
Once more, there was clear comfort between the two leaders, and they spent some nine hours in discussion. President Xi is not given to emotional expression, but he declared that he had had “heart to heart” talks with PM Modi, and that there were signs of “visible progress” in India-China ties.
This remark assumes significance in light of the fact that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, had visited Beijing on the eve of the informal summit, and had been assured by Xi that they would “support Pakistan in issues related to its core interests”. Equally significant, the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen Bajwa, also visited Beijing – separately – at the same time. Together, they had meetings with President Xi, and with Premier Li Keqiang. On his own, Bajwa met with Air Force Gen Xu Qiliang, the executive Vice Chair of the CMC [Central Military Commission].
The two Pakistani leaders were obviously pressing all the buttons they could, because, a short while earlier, the PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, had stated, on the subject of the prospective informal summit, regarding J&K:
I’m not sure if Kashmir will be on the agenda because this will be an informal summit. I think we need to give the leaders time to discuss whatever they would like to … we see Kashmir as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
This was the context in which President Xi assured the Pakistani leaders that he would support the “core interests” of the country.
To return to the informal summit, it was significant that President Xi also called upon the two militaries to enhance mutual trust and thus safeguard security and stability. The precise wording was given by People’s Daily:
Xi also called for earnest efforts to raise the level of military exchanges and security cooperation to enhance mutual trust between the two militaries and safeguard regional security and stability.
This was as far as he could go in highlighting the role of the PLA in preventing the achievement of the desired objective of stability, since it is clear that the Indian Army is under political control of the Government, and is not seeking to block that objective.
The newspaper China Daily, which had come in for praise by President Xi, added the following:
The two leaders reaffirmed that both sides will remain committed to upholding peace and tranquility in the border areas.
The messaging from President Xi could not have been clearer: he was determined to take the relationship to a new, higher level.
The two leaders also agreed to meet the following year and continue the informal summit meetings – in addition, since 2020 would mark seventy years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the PRC, there would be seventy events to mark the anniversary.
Initially, it seemed to go well: the two leaders met again a month later in Brasilia during the G20 summit, and President Xi reiterated that the Chennai summit had gone well, and that he looked forward to maintaining close communication with PM Modi to “jointly steer the direction of China-India relations, increase political mutual trust”. He added that he looked forward to the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties, as well as to the third summit in the PRC the following year.
Implementation of the understandings got off to a good start, including the military-to-military contacts. In January 2020, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander, visited the PRC on a five-day trip; this included a call in Beijing on the chief of the PLA Ground Force, Gen Han Weiguo: the Tibet and Xinjiang Commands notionally come directly under the PLA Ground Force. His tour also included a rare visit for the Indian Army to Xinjiang. At the HQ of the Western Theatre Command [WTC] in Urumqi, he also met Gen Zhao Zongqi, the Commander of WTC, and Gen Liu Wanlong, commander of the Xinjiang Military Command. This was the Command that was to play the decisive role in the Galwan fighting later in the year.
Obviously, in hindsight, it is clear that the PLA had serious misgivings about the way the relationship was developing, and those fears were fanned by the Pakistanis; the serious clashes in Galwan, with fatalities on both sides, in June 2020 put an end to any and all plans of the two leaders for peace and stability at the border, or indeed, for any further political dialogue at the summit level.
The Galwan fighting showed clear preparations from the PRC side for they were armed with murderous weapons in the form of clubs with nails, and with barbed wire wrapped around them. This was, as has often been mentioned, the first incident involving fatalities since 1975, but it was in line with a tougher Indian response, ever since the humiliation of 1962. As a result, 20 Indian soldiers were killed, while, on the side of the PLA, at least 40 fatalities occurred. Indian, American and Russian intelligence assessments are all agreed on this number.
Sporadic confrontations continued until January 2021. It is probably no coincidence that Gen Zhao Zongqi was removed from the Command in December 2020. He has, however, some source of strong support, because he found a soft landing in the National People’s Congress, and has resurfaced in Tibet recently, wearing his uniform, as a member of the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Committee [CPPCC] delegation on a tour of Tibet.
The other officers who require some attention are Lt Gen Xu Qiling, the Commander of the WTC Ground Force, appointed in April 2020, after a gap of some four months following the departure of Lt Gen He Weidong; and Lt Gen Liu Wanlong, Commander of the Xinjiang Military Command. These two, along with Gen Zhao Zongqi, Commander of the WTC, were the villains of the bloody incident. Xu was described by the South China Morning Post as a “rising star” in the PLA, who had served in four of the five new theatre commands, and in corps that had suppressed the Tibet uprising and the Tiananmen freedom movement [in PLA circles, these are pluses].
Xu Qiling, as the Commander of the PLA Ground Force in WTC, and Liu Wanlong, Commander of the Xinjiang MC, were the implementers of the strategy of Gen Zhao. And between December 2020 and August 2021, all three were gone from the WTC. The first to be removed was the lynch-pin, Gen Zhao in December 2020, but he found a soft landing in the National People’s Congress Foreign Affairs Committee. The next was Lt Gen Liu, who was removed in March 2021, without a similar soft landing: there was no new assignment, and he likely went into retirement.
The case of Gen Xu is intriguing: he was moved up in June 2021, as the Commander of the Western Theatre Command, and was removed in August 2021, within just two months. He also got a soft landing of sorts, being appointed Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the CMC, but has now been removed from that post. He has been elected, though, as a full member of the Central Committee of the CPC at the recently-held 20th Congress. It is not clear what military post, if any, he holds.
Though President Xi apparently got rid of the most egregious of the challengers, they had achieved their objective. The Galwan fighting, and the subsequent confrontations, have put an end to the very promising start made by President Xi in his sustained dialogue with PM Modi – not just in 2018 with the start of the informal summitry at Wuhan, but even as far back as 2014, when he assured, during his first visit, that he would seek to settle the border problem “at an early date”.
At each stage, he has been thwarted by the PLA, and the more he tries to sideline them, the more aggressive their response – as much to him as to India.
Some of the PLA officers involved on the India front have done well under President Xi. The most notable of these is Gen He Weidong, newly appointed Vice Chair of the CMC. This is an unusual step-up because he never served as an ordinary member of that body, but was given what is being called a “double promotion.” Gen He was Xu Qiling’s predecessor as Commander of the PLA GF in the WTC, moved out in December 2019. He was thus untainted by the Galwan episode.
What went on before he was moved out, and Xu brought in, cannot be known until the archives of the PLA are opened up. But it is possible that he was reluctant to fall in with Gen Zhao’s ambitious challenge to President Xi: one can imagine that he would have argued that his chain of command ran to the PLA Ground Force in the CMC in Beijing, and not to the WTC. Certainly the “double promotion” suggests some special mark of favour from President Xi, especially since, at 65 years of age, he was due for retirement.
The other officer is Gen Wang Haijiang: he is the current Commander of the WTC; he was the fourth Commander between December 2020 and August 2021, but he has steadied things since taking over, even though a disengagement in Depsang is proving elusive. But he had served earlier in both Tibet and in Xinjiang, and oversaw a period of relative stability, and has brough the same steadiness to his role in command of the WTC.
Xu Qiling and Zhao Zongqi have been bounced around a bit, as detailed above. If old generals are supposed to fade away, these two seem not have got the message. They remain active in one capacity or other, and will bear watching, because they appear to have some backing in the PLA, and have demonstrated their willingness to defy President Xi.
A brief look at the 20th Congress of the CPC and subsequent developments provides some additional insights to the complex relationship between President Xi and the PLA.
One prominent name in the news currently is that of Gen Xu Zhongbo, born October 1960: he was the Political Commissar of the PLA Rocket Force from 2020 to 2023, at which time he was removed under a cloud of suspicion. He was the first Political Commissar of the Western Theatre Command since its formation in February 2016, and was removed from the post in December 2017, in the post-Doklam clean-up of the Command that President Xi undertook. Gen Xu was a member of the 20th Central Committee, having been promoted from the position of Alternate, which he attained in the 19th Congress in 2017. He has, as mentioned, been sacked from the Rocket Force post, and is facing disciplinary proceedings.
Another notable figure is Gen Wu Shezhou, born 1958: he was appointed Political Commissar of Western Theatre Command in January 2017, replacing Gen Zhu Fuxi, who was retired, even though he had not attained retirement age for a three-star General. Clearly, someone wanted him in the Command – probably the Commander of the Western Theatre Command, Gen Zhao Zongqi, as both had served in senior posts in the Jinan Military Region prior to the restructuring of 2016. Wu oversaw two major clashes with the Indian Army – at Doklam in 2017, and Galwan in 2020. He was moved out in June 2021 – ironically, again before retirement age – but found a soft landing in the National People’s Congress Ethnic Affairs Committee. At the time of his appointment in 2017, he was the youngest of the top ten officers in the five Theatre Commands.
More on the moves by President Xi to control those who were involved in the 2017 and 2020 violence against India: Admiral Miao Hua, born November 1955 [he is actually a Ground Force officer] was shifted out of Lanzhou MR in 2014, following the Chumar incursion timed with President Xi’s visit to India, and sent to the Navy, admittedly on promotion as Political Commissar of the PLA Navy. He then entered the Central Military Commission in 2017, after the sacking of Gen Zhang Yang over the Doklam confrontation, as the CMC Political Work Department head.
This suggests that he had some strong backing, a presumption reinforced by the fact that he continues in the post after the 20th Congress, though his Joint Staff partner, Gen Li Zuocheng – a popular military hero – has been dropped. Reinforcing this conclusion is the fact that, at 68 years of age, he is past the retirement age for 3-star officers, although there seems to be no real age limit for members of the CMC.
But what the current CMC has done is to appoint a Deputy to the Chief Political Commissar, Lt Gen He Hongjun, and promote him to the Central Committee, so that his Party standing is the same as that of Miao Hua. Moreover, Gen He has fairly long experience in the Department in the CMC, so he can be an effective foil to Miao.
An examination of the broader changes in the Central Committee at the 20th Congress, shows in some relief the nature of the ‘ding-dong’ that is ongoing between the PLA, and especially its Ground Forces and the President, the nominal Commander-in-Chief.
The most intriguing is the case of the Southern Theatre Command. Its first Commander was a GF General, who lasted a short while from February 2016 to January 2017. He was then replaced by a Naval officer, Admiral Yuan Yubai, who served in the post for four years, until his retirement at age 65 in 2021. He was succeeded by another Ground Force officer, Gen Wang Xiubin. But at the 20th Congress, while Gen Wang was promoted to full membership of the Central Committee, Admiral Yang also stayed on as a full member. President Xi was obviously not pleased that the post had gone back to the Ground Force.
More revealing still is the case of the Political Commissar of the same Command: the post was retained by the GF, and in January 2019, Gen Wang Jianwu took over the post. He carried some baggage in the eyes of President Xi, as he had been Political Commissar in the Tibet Military Command in the period 2016-18, the time of the Doklam confrontation. The upshot has been that though Wang Jianwu was a Member of the 19th Central Committee [as Political Commissar of the Tibet Military Command], he was dropped from the position in 2022, at the 20th Congress; this could be because of the fact that, he would turn 65 in 2023, and go into retirement. He was born in August 1958, so he should be retiring any time as of this writing. It will be another indication of the relative power of the two sides to see who gets the replacement.
Two conclusions suggest themselves from this narrative. First, there was unmistakable anger on the part of President Xi over the Galwan attack by the PLA, and four senior officers involves were moved out in short order afterwards. Obviously, the leader of the pack had to be removed first, Gen Zhao Zongqi. It presumably took some doing, because he completed 65 years in April 2020, but was dislodged only in December 2020.
Shortly thereafter, three other officers followed: Gen Xu Qiling, Gen Wu Shezhou, and Lt Gen Liu Wanlong. All three, plus Gen Zhao of course, had some degree of involvement in the violence and the upsetting of the carefully laid plans of President Xi for a strategic shift in India-PRC relations. As mentioned, some others, notably Gen He Weidong, who had played a moderating role during their tenure, have benefitted greatly.
The other conclusion is that President Xi is working to reduce the power of the Ground Force. The very restructuring of the PLA in 2015-16 was aimed in this direction. But here the picture is mixed: for a start, the CMC membership is now more under the control of the Ground Force than the previous one was. Both the Vice Chairs are now Ground Force men, although Gen He is almost certainly a supporter of President Xi. The Defence Minister and the Secretary for Discipline Inspection are both from non-Ground Force cadres, one from Strategic Support Force, the other from the Rocket Force, though this needs to wait for a final assessment, since the Rocket Force is going through a top-level purge.
The remaining two are both hard-core Ground Force men, though Miao Hua carries the rank of Admiral now. Of the two, the figure of Gen Liu Zhenli, the new Director of the Joint Staff Department is harder to read. He was sidelined into the People’s Armed Police in 2015 for some six months, and it is not clear who pushed him out, and who pulled him back.
President Xi has also downplayed the role of the Ground Force in the Rocket Force. The former Political Commissar was a Ground Force man, who had also played a negative role in the Western Theatre Command [mentioned above] and has been replaced by an Air Force officer. The new Commander is a Naval officer, replacing an officer who had spent most of his career in the Rocket Force, and its forerunner, the Second Artillery Corps.
Among the Theatre Commands, President Xi lost the Southern Theatre Command to the Ground Force, but retained the previous Naval officer in the Central Committee, though he was past his retirement age as a three-star Admiral. As against this, he gained the Northern Theatre Command, by getting an Air Force officer as Commander to succeed a Ground Force officer.
But in policy terms, the setback of 2020 to India-PRC relations has not been undone; in that sense, the opposition of the PLA Ground Force has paid off. Not only that, the 20th Congress opened with a video clip of the Galwan fighting, which thus gave the PLA Ground Force the imprimatur of the entire Congress, with some two thousand delegates.
“The 2021 Military Strategy White Paper”
To cut to the chase, there is no such Paper. That is why the term is in inverted commas. And yet, it exists, and was released by the PRC State Council [ie, Ministry of Defence] on 23 June 2021. It turns out to be re-release of the 2015 White Paper. Before examining the whys and wherefores, its important features should be mentioned.
The most striking is that there is no reference throughout the 6,400-word document of Xi Jinping. There are references to the Central Committee and to the Central Military Commission, but none to President Xi, either by name or by official post. And the second aspect is, that since it is from 2015, it does not cover the restructuring done in 2016. Thus, there are no Theatre Commands, and there is, of course, no mention of the Rocket Force or its companion, the Strategic Support Force. For the rest, it is straightforward enough, though this was where the Paper first mentioned the need to move beyond the dominance of the land, and look to the sea as well.
As to why, one can only speculate. Such papers had been published every two or three years from 1995 to 2015. The next one was published in 2019, and as has been examined, 2017 and 2018 were unusual years for the relationship between President Xi and the PLA. In 2017, we had had the longest stand-off between India and the PRC in Doklam, and President Xi had had to sack two top military officers from the Central Military Commission – the Chief of Joint Staff and the Head of the Political Work Department – to get things on track and to hold the BRICS Summit in September. The year 2018 was remarkable for the fact that there were no promotions to the rank of General/Admiral that year. Presumably, there were personnel-related frictions that prevented a consensus document from being finalised.
Thus, the next White paper was released in 2019, which came out with formulations indicating that the Party was being supported by the PLA, negating the notion that the Party controlled the gun. It also contained laudatory references to President Xi, though again with a twist – suggesting that he and the Party needed the PLA more than the PLA needed him; similarly, that subordination was to national interest, and the unified leadership of the Party, the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission.
The intriguing question is, why the State Council re-issued the 2015 Paper and not the 2019 one, if it had to issue some document in 2021.
Also worth noting is that, even if the periodicity has been extended to four years – 2015, followed by 2019 – another one is still due this year, and they normally come out between April and June. The one in 2019 was late, and was released in July. So, a new White Paper is due this year, and should be published soon, unless there is some reason that is preventing a fresh Paper.
It is too early to judge the developments in the PLA Rocket Force and the removal of Qin Gang as Foreign Minister. But the latter is clearly a loss of face for President Xi, and he is the highest-level official seen as close to the President to be removed under a cloud. In the past, it has been lower-level officers who were shuffled about. For the present, there is an uneasy equilibrium in the Foreign Ministry, and the successor to Qin [including himself – not to be ruled out] will help further clarify the internal balance of power in the PRC. That Qin remains a State Councillor speaks to the tenuous situation at present.
Taking all the facts into account, it is clear that President Xi is not having things his way, and the PLA is his principal challenger on policy towards India.
India in the Fraught Relationship Between President Xi and the PLA (circumspice.net)  The author is grateful to former Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai, for this map. Place names highlighted by author. This is not just an Indian view: even under the UN Resolutions, Pakistan was supposed to vacate these areas.  In India, it is common to refer to them as “Ground Forces” – the PLA itself refers to it as PLA Army, even though the word “Army” thus occurs twice. https://www.circumspice.net/post/president-jiang-zemin-speech-in-islamabad-december-1996 - author’s own collection, saved immediately after the speech was made – most texts in the internet are behind a paywall. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3225210/india-united-states-marriage-convenience-over-china-policy?module=AI_Recommended_for_you_In-house&pgtype=homepage_asia It is a reflection of Xi’s inadequate control over the PLA that Zhang’s replacement was Miao Hua, whom he had banished from the Lanzhou Military Region to the Navy after the Chumar incursion in 2014, while he was in India, and unaware of it. https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/29853/IndiaChina_Informal_Summit_at_Wuhan - see paragraph 4. 728 Liu Zongyi, Wuhan 2.0: a Chinese assessment (india-seminar.com) As Modi, Xi wrap summit in Indian temple town, differences remain | Xi Jinping News | Al Jazeera https://tfipost.com/2019/09/china-has-a-habit-of-starting-a-tussle-with-india-before-visiting-india-well-this-time-india-gives-it-back/ http://en.people.cn/n3/2019/1015/c90000-9622733.html http://en.people.cn/n3/2019/1015/c90000-9622733.html https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/gjhdq_665435/2675_665437/2711_663426/2713_663430/201911/t20191118_513405.html China puts rising star in command of forces in border face-off against India | South China Morning Post (scmp.com)  Some recent press reports indicate that he is still Vice Chief in the Joint Staff Department of the CMC. If so, he outranks his superior officer, because he was promoted to the rank of General a year earlier than Gen Liu Zhenli.  In the PLA, since there is no rank of Brigadier, a full General gets 3 stars.  http://english.chinamil.com.cn/view/2021-06/23/content_10053010.htm  https://www.andrewerickson.com/2019/07/china-defense-white-papers-1995-2019-download-complete-set-read-highlights-here/
(Prabhat Prakash Shukla has been diplomatic adviser to three Indian prime ministers. In his long and distinguished career as a diplomat, he was also India's ambassador to Russia.)