China names new defence minister to replace ousted Li Shangfu

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He disappeared from the public eye in late August and no reason has been given for his removal.

Li 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.

Dong, who is not on any US sanctions list, is the first defence minister from the navy.

01:54

China sacks defence minister Li Shangfu with no explanation after nearly two-month absence

China sacks defence minister Li Shangfu with no explanation after nearly two-month absence

He served in all major naval divisions in the PLA 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.

Dong led China’s joint naval military exercises with Russia in 2016 when he was the navy’s deputy chief of staff. He did so again in drills with Pakistan in 2020 while he was the deputy commander of the Southern Theatre Command, according to state media reports.

Dong’s appointment comes as the US and China take steps to resume high-level military to military communication. Those talks were scaled back dramatically after then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022.

The ice was broken last week when General Charles “CQ” Brown, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to his Chinese counterpart General Liu Zhenli.

03:12

Xi Jinping, Joe Biden hold talks on sidelines of Apec summit to ease strained US-China ties

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It was the highest level of communication between the two militaries in more than a year, and described by China’s defence ministry as yielding “positive and constructive” outcomes.

The defence ministers of the two countries have not talked since November last year, despite repeated requests from the Pentagon.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been increasing in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait in the absence of reliable lines of communication, increasing the risk of misunderstandings or the situation escalating.

As part of efforts to ease those tensions, Beijing and Washington agreed in November this year to restore military communication channels.

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The defence minister has less direct authority than counterparts in other countries and instead acts mostly as the military’s public representative.

The power of command falls under the Central Military Commission, chaired by President Xi Jinping.

Also on Friday, the NPC Standing Committee set the date for the annual gathering of the national legislature and top political advisory body.

The NPC will meet from March 5, a day after the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference begins its session.

The “two sessions” will endorse government budgets and draw up annual government work plans, as well as hear policy suggestions from the two bodies.

Premier Li Qiang is set to deliver his first government work report. He was confirmed as premier in March.

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China names new defence minister to replace ousted Li Shangfu

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