“I suspect the fact that its leadership was removed is a very clear signal to the rest of the rocket force to get in line,” he added.
It was unclear what was behind the reshuffle.
It comes after Xi has called for party discipline in the armed forces and for developing a “modern system for military governance.” The military office overseeing weapons purchases recently introduced measures to clamp down on corrupt procurement activities.
The South China Morning Post reported that the ousted head of the rocket force and his current and former deputies were allegedly under investigation by the Central Military Commission’s anti-corruption unit. NBC News could not independently verify the report.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House National Security Council declined to comment.
There was no sign the change of command was related to the recent sacking of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who had disappeared from public view for weeks before he was replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi, analysts said.
Changes in the rocket force command follow a concerted effort by Beijing to bolster and expand its nuclear forces in recent years.
The decision to remove the former leaders of the force likely would not affect the trajectory of China’s nuclear and missile buildup, said Lyle Morris, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis.
He called the unscheduled leadership change “a major reshuffle” and probably the biggest in the history of the rocket force.
Given the priority and major funding devoted to the country’s nuclear forces, the program could provide “a target for potential corruption investigations, “ Morris said.
Despite having asserted his control over the military during his time in power, Xi remains concerned about corruption in the ranks, according to Morris.