What did China’s new Defense Minister reveal about Xi Jinping’s military purge?

Chinese President Xi Jinping poses with military leaders at a ceremony to promote two officers to the rank of general in Beijing on Dec. 25 (Li Gang/Xinhua News Agency/AP)

The ruling Communist Party has sacked high-ranking officials and appointed a navy commander as defense minister, four months after his predecessor disappeared amid a sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

A year into his third term, Xi JinpingChina’s most powerful leader in decades is once again trying to stem deep-rooted corruption, undermining his ambition to transform the People’s Liberation Army into a “world-class” fighting force capable of competing with the United States. There is danger.

promotion on friday Admiral Dong JunThe 62-year-old former Chinese navy chief came as the announcement came as a dozen generals and top officials from state-run military companies were removed from the country’s legislative assembly and top political advisory body.

The magnitude of this week’s personnel changes, announced at a meeting of senior Chinese Communist Party officials in Beijing, signaled the seriousness of the ongoing investigation. military corruption The aim of which is to acquire the weapons and rocket forces that have been in charge of the country’s missile and nuclear arsenal in recent months.

China did not explain why this was so Previous Defense Minister Li Shangfu was dismissed in October After being absent from the public scene for two months.

General Li Shangfu, former Chinese defense minister (AP)

But U.S. officials say Li was likely embroiled in an investigation into bid-rigging and lax oversight during his five years running the equipment development department charged with improving Chinese military technology. Senior officials overseeing the rocket force that manages China’s nuclear arsenal were also replaced without warning in August.

Of the nine high-ranking military personnel expelled from the National People’s Congress on Friday, all appear to have direct or indirect links to Li.

Some had worked in the team development department under Lee between 2017 and 2022; Others were in the rocket force or space program.

“Something important must have happened for this kind of purification to happen,” “This is likely a major corruption scandal or intelligence leak,” Lyle Morris, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, wrote on Twitter.

Chinese military experts say the reshuffle and Dong’s appointment are unlikely to significantly alter China’s ambitious military modernization program or its approach to relations with the United States.

In China, the post of Defense Minister is largely ceremonial and focuses primarily on military diplomacy and international engagement. Instead, high-level strategy and important decisions come from high-ranking members. Central Military Commission headed by Xi.

Unlike his predecessor, Dong is not yet a member of the commission.

Admiral Dong Jun, China’s new Defense Minister (Photo: People’s Liberation Army)

A naval officer’s unusual choice coincides with a long-standing change Priority to sea power, Which China considers necessary to achieve military dominance in the Indo-Pacific and to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, the island democracy which Beijing considers its territory.

Dong, who has spent his entire career in the Navy, has experience commanding the fast-growing fleet that China uses to support its claims in the South and East China Seas. It has also participated in joint naval exercises with Russia, which China considers a key partner in its efforts to establish dominance in the region.

Military analysts say they expect Dong, as the new public face of the People’s Liberation Army Promote the resumption of recent military talks between China and the United StatesThis was agreed upon when President Biden met Xi in November.

But the fundamentals of the relationship are unlikely to change significantly, and promotions within the Navy suggest that China is increasingly focusing on the South China Sea as an area of ​​military competition with the United States and its allies. , Eurasia Group has written in a research. Comment.

Analysts warn that efforts to defuse tensions remain uncertain and could easily be derailed if aggressive Chinese military tactics trigger a new round of hostilities.

Restoring ties has been complicated by Beijing’s tense clashes with the Philippines over disputed islands, increased fencing around Taiwan and frequent and dangerous interceptions by Chinese warships and warplanes against the United States and its allies.

© 2023, The Washington Post

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