China appointed Gen. Li Shangfu as its new defense minister, making the general targeted by U.S. sanctions the face of the communist regime’s growing military.
The National People’s Congress (NPC), which is China’s rubber-stamp legislature, formally confirmed Li’s appointment as minister of national defense and as a state councilor on March 12.
The 65-year-old aerospace engineer succeeds Wei Fenghe, who stepped down from the Central Military Commission, the highest decision-making body overseeing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), at the Party congress in October 2022 after reaching the customary retirement age of 68.
While Li’s new post is viewed as largely diplomatic and ceremonial within China’s ruling system, his promotion has been closely watched by outside analysts, given his background.
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Li for allegedly purchasing fighter jets and equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, in violation of a 2017 sanction law that seeks to punish Russia for interfering in U.S. elections, aggression in eastern Ukraine, and other activities.
The sanction, announced in 2018, barred Li from entering the United States and accessing any properties and assets in the country
At the time, Li was director of the Equipment Development Department, a branch under the Central Military Commission responsible for weapons procurement.
Li’s new tenure comes as the Sino–U.S. relationship is strained over a range of issues, from the communist regime’s economic espionage to assertive military actions against Taiwan. The latest spat was sparked last month by a spy balloon that traversed over the United States for several days before being shot down. On Feb. 7, Pentagon officials said they requested a phone call between Wei and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, but Beijing refused.
Li’s promotion suggests that the communist regime has little interest in easing tensions with Washington, some analysts say.
Pentagon spokesperson Army Lt. Col. Marty Meiners said last week that the U.S. military couldn’t comment on media reports about China’s leadership changes but that the United States has been clear in wanting to maintain communications with the PLA.
“Open lines of communication can help us manage risk, avoid miscalculation, and responsibly manage competition,” Meiners said.
Li’s promotion was among a series of personnel moves announced during the annual NPC meeting, which closes on March 13.
In the once-in-five-years reshuffle, Xi secured his third term as the head of the state, putting himself on track to become one of the longest-serving Chinese leaders since Mao Zedong, who ruled the country for 27 years, until his death in 1976.
Many of Xi’s loyalists were promoted to the country’s leadership. For example, former Shanghai party chief Li Qiang was named as the Chinese premier, the country’s second-highest post, on March 10.
Some scholars believe that Li has close ties to Zhang Youxia, a close military ally of Xi. The 73-year-old Zhang was elevated to first vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission in October 2022, with Li following him onto the commission’s governing seven-person group.
Li spent most of his career in China’s satellite programs, working at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province for more than 30 years. In 2007, when Li served as the director of the center, China successfully carried out its first test of anti-satellite weapons.
In 2016, Li was appointed as a deputy commander of the PLA’s then-new Strategic Support Force, an elite body tasked with accelerating the development of the PLA’s space and cyber warfare capabilities.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times