US-sanctioned general is China’s new defence minister, Xi Jinping’s loyal aide named vice-premier | World News - Hindustan Times
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US-sanctioned general is China’s new defence minister, Xi Jinping’s loyal aide named vice-premier

Mar 12, 2023 02:29 PM IST

Li Shangfu, a veteran of China’s ongoing drive to modernise the People’s Liberation Army, came under US’ scrutiny five years ago for allegedly purchasing Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 missile system equipment from Russian arms seller Rosoboronexport

Beijing: China on Sunday named General Li Shangfu who was sanctioned in 2018 by Washington for violating US sanctions against Russia as the country’s new defence minister

Zhang Youxia (centre), newly-elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of China, swears an oath with Cmc members He Weidong and Li Shangfu after they were elected during the fourth plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Zhang Youxia (centre), newly-elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of China, swears an oath with Cmc members He Weidong and Li Shangfu after they were elected during the fourth plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Saturday. (REUTERS)

Li, and new foreign minister, Qin Gang, were also endorsed as state councillors along with Wang Xiaohong, Wu Zhenglong, and Shen Yiqin at the annual session of China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

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China’s NPC on Sunday also endorsed Ding Xuexiang, ranked six in the ruling Communist Party of China’s (CPC) hierarchy, as executive vice-premier.

Ding, 60, who has worked as a chief of staff for President Xi Jinping, was promoted last October to the party’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee — the top decision-making body in China — despite his lack of experience in central government administration or even as a regional party chief, considered as critical requirements to rise to elite leadership.

He was endorsed with three other vice-premiers — He Lifeng, Zhang Guoqing, and Liu Guozhong — at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday morning.

A sharp focus was trained on the official announcement of the new defence minister who would take over from Wei Fenghe.

Li, a veteran of China’s ongoing drive to modernise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), came under US’ scrutiny five years ago for allegedly purchasing Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 missile system equipment from Russian arms seller Rosoboronexport.

Li at the time was the director of the Equipment Development Department of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC).

The appointment of Li is a clear signal from China to the US about not giving any importance to its sanctions. The new appointment will also be a hurdle — and certainly awkward — in future defence dialogues between the two countries.

Military dialogue between the two countries remain badly affected in the aftermath of the August visit to Taiwan by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Li, who is an aerospace engineer, served for decades at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre besides serving as Chief of Staff of the PLA General Armaments Department, the Deputy Commander of the PLA Strategic Support Force, and the Director of the Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission.

“Li’s rise reflects the unprecedented development of China’s space enterprise since Xi Jinping took power in 2012. It also signals to the world that, against the backdrop of increasingly intensified China-US technological competition, China will continue to prioritise aerospace in its defence modernisation agenda during Xi’s third term and beyond,” Marcus Clay, an analyst with the US Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute wrote for The Diplomat in October during the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) congress.

“Li’s ‘aerospace expert’ credential gives him the clout to promote the military’s technological modernisation agenda — a defining feature of Xi Jinping’s ‘strong military thought’,” Clay wrote, adding that Li’s extensive military RD&A leadership experiences also suggest better, perhaps more efficient, coordination between the military and civilian entities involved in key national defence programmes.

Separately, China’s NPC on Sunday announced the new lineup of the State Council or the Cabinet.

“Upon nomination by Premier Li Qiang, vice-premiers, state councillors, ministers, governor of the central bank, auditor-general, and secretary-general of the State Council were endorsed by lawmakers at the fifth plenary meeting of the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress. Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order to appoint these officials,” official news agency Xinhua reported.

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