Chinese ex-Navy chief, with South China Sea background, named defense minister

BEIJING — China named former Navy chief Dong Jun as its new defense minister on Friday to replace the last minister who disappeared from public view four months ago.

The appointment by Chinese lawmakers comes as President Xi Jinping upgrades the military as part of his push to make China a dominant world power, a goal that has alarmed many neighbors.

The role of China’s defense minister is to be the public face of the People’s Liberation Army in its engagement with the media and with other armed forces.

A crucial element of his job is to engage with the United States military to lower the risk of conflict over Taiwan and the South China Sea, two flashpoints to which Dong, 62, is no stranger.

Before becoming the People’s Liberation Army Navy chief and made a full general in 2021, he was vice commander of the East Sea Fleet, the backbone of what is now the Eastern Theatre Command—the main force responsible for fighting over Taiwan, a self-ruled island China considers its own.

He also served as vice commander of the Southern Theatre Command which operates in the disputed South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China.

“Dong would be familiar with managing near-encounters between Chinese and US military. This is useful when he has to manage crises between both militaries,” said Li Mingjiang, international relations scholar at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Wen-Ti Sung, political scientist and non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, said the selection of Dong could be a sign that purges are ongoing in the Rocket Force and Equipment Development Department.

The two preceding defense ministers, who came from these two forces, have since disappeared from public view.

Dong replaces Li Shangfu, who had headed the department in charge of equipment procurement and research before taking up the defense minister job in March. Li has not been seen in public since Aug. 25.

Reuters cited sources to report that Li was under investigation for corruption related to equipment procurement and development.

Beijing has not explained Li’s disappearance but stripped him of his title as defense minister and state councilor in October.

During his brief tenure as minister, Li did not meet his US counterpart—Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The ministry explained that Washington would have to first remove the sanctions it placed on Li on 2018 over his role in purchasing Russian aircraft and equipment.

Dong would face no such constraint, as he is not known to be under US sanctions.

When President Joe Biden and Xi met in San Francisco last month, both leaders agreed to resume senior military talks that were suspended following then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. — Reuters

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Planet Philippines UK

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading