What China39s new defense minister tells us about Xi39s military.jpgw1440

What China's new defense minister tells us about Xi's military purge – The Washington Post

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A dramatic ouster and reshuffle of China's military leadership escalated this week as the ruling Communist Party fired senior officers and appointed a navy commander as defense minister, four months after his predecessor disappeared amid a sweeping crackdown on corruption.

A year into his third term, Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader in decades, is again trying to curb deep-rooted corruption that threatens his ambition to transform the People's Liberation Army into a “world-class” force on par with the United States.

The promotion of Admiral Dong Jun, the 62-year-old former head of China's navy, came on Friday with the announcement that a dozen generals and senior executives of state military contractors had been removed from the legislature and the country's top political advisory body.

What's going on with the turmoil at the top of the Chinese military?

The extent of the personnel changes this week, announced at meetings of senior Chinese Communist Party officials in Beijing, suggested the seriousness of the ongoing military corruption investigation, which in recent months has focused on arms procurement and missile and missile defense The country's missile force targeted nuclear weapons arsenals.

China did not explain why former defense minister Li Shangfu was removed from office in October after two months of not appearing in public.

But U.S. officials say Li was likely embroiled in an investigation into bid-rigging and lax oversight during the five years he led the equipment development division, which is tasked with improving China's military technology. Senior officials overseeing the missile force that manages China's nuclear arsenal were also replaced without warning in August.

Of the nine senior military officials kicked out of the National People's Congress on Friday, all appeared to have direct or indirect ties to Li.

Some had worked in the equipment development department under Li from 2017 to 2022; others were in the rocket force or the space program.

“Something big must have happened to cause this kind of purge,” wrote Lyle Morris, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, most likely a major corruption scandal or an information leak on X, formerly Twitter.

What does this mean for China's military strategy?

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. High-level strategies and key decisions are instead made by senior members of the Central Military Commission chaired by Xi.

Unlike his predecessor, Dong is not yet a member of the commission.

The unusual choice of a naval officer fits with a long-standing shift toward prioritizing sea power, which China sees as essential to achieving military supremacy in the Indo-Pacific and asserting its sovereignty claims over Taiwan, the island democracy 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 bolster disputed claims in the South and East China Seas. He has also been involved in joint naval exercises with Russia, which sees China as an important partner in its efforts to gain dominance in the region.

What about the United States?

Military analysts expect Dong, as the new public face of the People's Liberation Army, to spearhead the recent renewal of the military-to-military dialogue between China and the United States, agreed upon at a meeting between President Biden and Xi in November.

But the fundamentals of the relationship are unlikely to change significantly, and promotions within the Navy suggest China is increasingly focused on the South China Sea as a theater of military competition with the United States and its allies, the Eurasia Group wrote in a research note.

Efforts to ease tensions remain precarious and could easily fail if China's aggressive military tactics trigger a new round of hostilities, analysts warn.

The realignment of relations has been complicated by tense clashes between Beijing and the Philippines over disputed islands, escalating saber-rattling over Taiwan and frequent dangerous interception attacks by Chinese ships and warplanes on the United States and its allies.