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China appoints new defence minister, 2 months after ousting ‘missing’ Li Shangfu

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China on Friday appointed Dong Jun as its new defence minister, replacing Li Shangfu who was ousted two months ago without any explanation after he went missing since August. The appointment of the new defence minister came as Chinese President Xi Jinping is upgrading the military as part of his push to make China a dominant world power, an aim that has alarmed many neighbours.

China's new defence minister Dong Jun (Chinese media)
China’s new defence minister Dong Jun (Chinese media)

Dong, 62, was most recently the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy chief. Before this, he has served in all major divisions in the PLA including the Northern Sea Fleet, Eastern Sea Fleet, as well as the Southern Command Theatre, reported local media.

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Notably, the role of China’s defence minister is to be the public face of the PLA in its engagement with the media and with other militaries, reported Reuters. However, unlike other countries, the ministry does not have a lot of say in defence policy or military management.

What happened to Li Shangfu?

In October this year, China removed Li Shangfu from his position as defence minister and state councillor without any explanation. He took up the defence minister job in March but had not been seen in public since August 25. According to reports, Li was under US sanctions related to his overseeing weapon purchases from Russia that bar him from entering the country. Since then, China cut off contact with the US military, mainly in protest over Washington’s arm sales to Taiwan.

During Li’s tenure as well, he did not meet his US counterpart due to the sanctions. Notably, a crucial element of China’s defence minister’s job is to engage with the US military to lower the risk of conflict over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Li was the second minister to be removed abruptly since Xi began his unprecedented third term last year. In July, Qin Gang was replaced as foreign minister by his predecessor Wang Yi, after a similar unexplained withdrawal from public engagements.

(With inputs from agencies)

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