BEIJING: China named Dong Jun as its new defence minister on Friday (Dec 29) to replace the last minister who disappeared 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 worried many neighbours.
The job of China’s defence minister is to be the public face of the People’s Liberation Army in its engagement with the media and with other militaries.
Unlike other countries, the ministry has little say in defence policy or military management, areas that fall under the purview of Central Military Commission, an elite group run by Xi.
Dong, 62, was most recently the People’s Liberation Army Navy chief. He follows Li Shangfu, who took up the defence minister job in March but had not been seen in public since Aug 25.
Reuters cited sources to report that Li was under investigation for corruption connected to equipment procurement and development.
Beijing has not explained Li’s disappearance but stripped him of his title as defence minister and state councillor in October.
A crucial aspect of China’s defence minister job is to engage with the United States military to lower the risk of conflict over Taiwan and the South China Sea, two flashpoints that have seen growing brushes in recent years.
Yet during his short 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 put on Li on 2018 over his role in purchasing Russian aircraft and equipment.
Dong would face no such restrictions, as he is not known to be under US sanctions.
When President Joe Biden and Xi met in San Francisco last month, both leaders decided to resume senior military talks that were suspended following then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy