Saturday, March 2, 2024

China appoints new defense minister after months of vacancy: NPR

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China has installed a new defense minister with a naval background, months after his predecessor was fired without explanation.

Alina Selyuk, host:

And now we turn to China, where a new defense minister took up his post on Friday. And the news ended a month-long period of intrigue after the former defense secretary went missing and was later fired without explanation. NPR’s John Ruwich has this report.


Unidentified station: (Chinese speaking).

JOHN RUWICH, BYLINE: News of Admiral Dong Jun’s appointment as defense minister was hidden near the end of a prime-time broadcast on state television, with few details.


Unidentified station: (Chinese speaking).

RUWICH: But the fact that China now has a defense minister after months without one is a positive, analysts say. Mr. Dong’s predecessor, Mr. Li Shangfu, disappeared from public life in late summer and was sacked in October amid corruption allegations. Mr. Li is also under U.S. sanctions, which was one of the reasons Beijing rejected his invitation to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. However, bilateral dialogue is getting back on track after a difficult period. Taylor Fravel is the Director of the Security Research Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Taylor Flavell: It’s not inconceivable that that could happen in the next few weeks. – A phone call may take place between Austin and Admiral Don. That’s a positive thing, right? Because, given the increasing competition and conflict between the two countries, it is important to maintain genuine communication between the two countries’ militaries.

Ruwich: Don is a career naval officer who joined the military in the late 1970s. Before he became Secretary of the Navy, he served in the Eastern Fleet and the Southern Command. Both are key arenas in which Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes involving Taiwan, the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands, and the South China Sea. Still, as China’s first defense chief with a naval background, Flavel said it might be a logical choice. The navy has achieved a prominent position in China’s military modernization drive, and it tends to be the most outward-looking sector.

Froebel: For this reason, I think he is particularly suited for the job, probably because of his experience in the East Sea Fleet and then in the Southern Army.

RUWICH: Still, analysts say China’s defense minister does not command the military, and the ruling Communist Party has the final say. Meanwhile, the safety of former Defense Minister Lee Sang-bok remains unknown, and it appears that the purge within the military is still underway. On Friday, nine Chinese legislative officials were removed from their jobs. John Ruwitch, NPR News.


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