China on Sunday appointed a US-sanctioned army general as its new Defence Minister, displaying scant regard for Washington's ban on its military personnel.
Gen Li Shangfu, a Chinese aerospace engineer and General of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was sanctioned by the US in 2018 for the purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missiles by China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD) in violation of the US sanctions on Russia.
The US sanctioned both the EDD and its then director Gen Li.
On Sunday, Gen Li was confirmed as the new Defence Minister by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (CPC). He will succeed Gen Wei Fenghe.
Gen Li was appointed along with a new set of cabinet ministers for various ministries as part of change of the Chinese government officials every 10 years. On Saturday, Gen Li was appointed as a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) - the high command of the Chinese military headed by President Xi Jinping.
The US Department of Defence’s 2022 China Military Report described Gen Li as the general officer who offers “technical expertise on military modernisation on space issues” to Xi.
“Li’s rise reflects the unprecedented development of China’s space enterprise since Xi Jinping took power in 2012,” according to the Diplomat magazine.
“It also signals to the world that, against the backdrop of increasingly intensified China-US technological competition, China will continue to prioritize aerospace in its defence modernisation agenda during Xi’s third term and beyond," it said.
“General Li Shangfu’s appointment represents more consistency in the PLA senior leadership than change. Like Wei Fenghe, who also rose within the PLA under Xi’s tenure, Li will continue to be a steward of China’s defence modernisation programs, which have received sustained and continuous support of Chinese leaders from Jiang Zemin to Xi Jinping. Moreover, as the highest-ranking state councilor and a CMC member, Li will enjoy direct access to Xi and serve as his key military advisor,” it said.
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang has been elevated to the rank of State Councillor, which will put him in line for his likely appointment for the post of China’s Special Representative for India-China boundary talks, a high-level mechanism to discuss the boundary issue and improvement of ties between the two countries.
The National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese Parliament, which is holding its annual session on Sunday endorsed Qin’s appointment as Foreign Minister and elevated him to the status of State Councillor, a high-ranking position within the State Council or the central cabinet, the executive organ of the Chinese government.
Qin, 56, was appointed as the Foreign Minister in December succeeding Wang Yi who was elected to the Political Bureau of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), a key policy body of the party in the once-in-a-five-year congress of the party in October last year.
Qin’s elevation to the rank of state councillor will put him in line for his appointment as the special representative (SR) of the India-China boundary mechanism formed in 2003.