WASHINGTON — The long-running term of Adm. Wu Shengli as commander of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) seems to be ending with his retirement, according to a report in a non-China-owned Hong Kong daily newspaper.
The new commander, according to an English translation of a Chinese-language report in the daily Ming Pao paper, is Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, commander of the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet.
Like Wu, Shen, 60, is familiar to US Navy leaders, having commanded the Chinese Navy squadron that took part in Rim of the Pacific exercises out of Pearl Harbor in 2014. He also attended the International Seapower Symposium last September at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
According to an English translation of the Ming Pao article, Shen has served tours in command of a PLAN North Sea Fleet destroyer flotilla, the Navy’s Lushun Logistical Base, the Dalian Naval Academy and the Navy’s Command Academy. The article notes Shen became commander of the South Sea Fleet — one of China’s three main fleets — in December 2014.
The translation cites Ming Pao as calling Shen’s appointment a “surprise” to many people. The paper, according to the translation, noted that Wang Hai, the PLAN’s deputy commander, has been a strong contender for the top job.
The Ming Pao article, according to the translation, also reported that Yuan Yubai, commander of the North Sea Fleet, was appointed commander of the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater; Wei Gang, deputy director of the Navy’s Armament Department, was appointed commander of the East Sea Fleet; former East Sea Fleet commander Su Zhiqian was appointed deputy commander of the Navy; and Zhang Wendan, deputy chief of staff of the Southern Theater Command, was appointed commander of the North Sea Fleet.
Wu, 71, has served as the PLAN’s commander since August 2006 and has overseen the Chinese Navy’s most dramatic period of growth and rise as a regional sea power. During his watch, the PLAN commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and developed a carrier task group, which only this week made a demonstration cruise through the Taiwan Strait.
A large and growing number of new and modern ships has joined the fleet, including sophisticated missile destroyers and frigates, several classes of conventionally and nuclear-powered submarines, modern amphibious assault ships, and highly capable supply ships. The latter have been a key asset in China’s first effort to sustain long-term, out-of-area operations, dispatching a series of task forces beginning in August 2008 on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. The ships have routinely ranged even further afield, operating around Africa, in the Mediterranean and Black seas, up to the Baltic Sea, and in the Americas, including visits to Latin America.
The rising power of the PLAN is underpinning China’s island-building campaigns in the South China Sea and elsewhere, bolstering Chinese territorial claims and — in China’s view — safeguarding the “Maritime Silk Road” of commerce throughout western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.
A US source said Wu’s retirement had been expected, although the timing was not known.
Wu, according to the translation of the Ming Pao article, will retain his membership in the Central Military Commission until his full retirement from the Navy in the fall.