What the new Chinese Defense Minister reveals about the military purge carried out by Xi Jinping

What the new Chinese Defense Minister reveals about the military purge carried out by Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping stands with military leaders at a ceremony to promote two officers to the rank of general in Beijing on December 25. (Li Gang/Xinhua News Agency/Associated Press)

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

A year after his third term Xi JinpingChina's most powerful leader in decades is trying – once again – to rein in deep-rooted corruption that threatens his ambition to transform the People's Liberation Army into a “world-class” fighting force capable of taking on the United States.

Promotion on Friday Admiral Dong JunThe 62-year-old former Chinese navy commander came alongside the announcement of the removal of dozens of generals and senior executives at state-run military companies from the country's legislature and top political advisory body.

The scale of personnel changes this week, announced at meetings of senior Chinese Communist Party officials in Beijing, indicates the seriousness of the ongoing investigation into the case. Military corruption Which in recent months has been aimed at obtaining the weapons and missile power responsible for the country's missile and nuclear arsenals.

China did not say why Former Defense Minister Li Changfu was dismissed in October After being absent from the public arena for two months.

General Li Changfu, former Chinese Defense Minister (AFP)

But US officials say Li is likely implicated in an investigation into bid rigging and lax oversight during the five years he ran the Equipment Development Administration, charged with improving Chinese military technology. Top officials overseeing the Missile Force that manages China's nuclear arsenal were also replaced without warning in August.

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Of the nine senior military personnel expelled from China's National People's Congress on Friday, all appear to be directly or indirectly linked to Li.

Some of them worked in the team development department under Lee between 2017 and 2022; Others were in the Rocket Force or the space program.

“Something important must have happened to precipitate this kind of purification.” It's most likely a major corruption scandal or intelligence leak, Lyle Morris, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, previously wrote on Twitter.

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

In China, the position 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-level members Central Military Commission, headed by Xi.

Unlike his predecessor, Dong has not yet become a member of the committee.

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

The unusual selection of a naval officer fits into a long-term shift toward… Determine the priorities of naval power, Which China considers necessary to achieve military superiority in the Indo-Pacific region and assert its sovereign claims over Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing considers its territory.

Dong, who has spent his entire career in the Navy, has experience commanding the rapidly expanding fleets that China uses to support its claims in the South and East China Seas. It also participated in joint naval exercises with Russia, which China considers an important partner in its efforts to control the region.

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Military analysts say they expect Dong to be the new public face of the People's Liberation Army. Promoting the recent resumption of military dialogue between China and the United StatesIt was agreed upon when President Biden met with 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 arena for military competition with the United States and its allies, the Eurasia Group wrote in a paper. NB.

Analysts warn that efforts to calm tensions remain risky and could easily be derailed if aggressive Chinese military tactics lead to a new round of hostilities.

The process of restoring ties has been complicated by tense clashes between Beijing and the Philippines over disputed islands, escalating saber-rattling around Taiwan, and frequent and dangerous interceptions by Chinese warships and warplanes against the United States and its allies.

© 2023, The Washington Post

Aygen Marsh

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