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China appoints former top naval commander as new Defence Minister

BEIJING (PTI): China has named former naval commander General Dong Jun, said to be a close confidant of President Xi Jinping, as the new Defence Minister, two months after the summary dismissal of General Li Shangfu without an explanation.

China's top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), which confirmed Li's ouster in October, appointed Dong in his place, the official media reported.

Dong, formerly the commander of the Chinese Navy, was promoted to the rank of general in September 2021, making him one of the highest-ranking officers in active service, the China Daily reported.

Regarded as a close confidant of President Xi, Dong was later elected to the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October 2022.

Before becoming the Navy's top commander in 2021, he served in the Northern Sea Fleet, now a regular player in joint drills with the Russian Navy, the Eastern Sea Fleet, which focuses on potential conflicts with Japan, as well as the Southern Command Theatre, which oversees the South China Sea, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

The appointments for the top defence posts are cleared by President Xi, who is also the head of the Central Military Commission (CMC), besides being the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

Before Li, Foreign Minister Qin Gang was also removed without an explanation. Qin was replaced by Wang Yi as Foreign Minister. Earlier this year, Qin succeeded Wang as the country's top diplomat.

The fates of both Li and Qin are not known.

Li had disappeared from the public eye in late August and no reason was given for his removal.

Li, who headed the country's missile force, was the first Chinese Defence Minister to be placed on a US sanctions list because of arms sales from Russia and was the second government minister abruptly removed from his post this year.

The new Defence Minister Dong’s appointment comes in the backdrop of the recent agreement between the US and China to revive their stalled contacts between the top defence officials, following the recent summit between Xi and US President Joe Biden.

China had discontinued military contacts as a protest to the former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.

On December 21, the militaries of China and the US revived talks with a video call between General Liu Zhenli, China’s Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, and General Charles Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military.

"The video call yielded positive and constructive outcomes,” Chinese Defence spokesman Sr. Col. Wu Qian told the media in Beijing on Thursday.

The role of the Chinese Navy is in ascendancy under Xi as it has overtaken the Army with a massive expansion of its fleet of warships and nuclear and conventional submarines.

Significantly, both Li and Dong were not from the Army.

The Chinese Navy has currently three aircraft carriers in different stages of operational preparedness and is on the frontline of China’s global outreach to expand its influence, competing with the US military.

On Tuesday, Xi promoted two naval officers, including a submarine expert as top naval commander which involves Chinese naval operations in the disputed South China Sea.

General is the highest rank for officers in active service in China.

The promoted officers included the Political Commissar of the Southern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army, Wang Wenquan, and the Commander of the PLA Navy, Hu Zhongming.

Hu was a submarine specialist with extensive experience at sea, having taken part in the Chinese Navy’s first global mission and numerous exercises.

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