China on Friday appointed a new defense minister to replace Li Shangfu, who was ousted from his post earlier this year after just seven months into the job, and hasn’t been seen in public since August.
The appointment of Dong Jun, who has been the commander of China’s navy since 2021, comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and across the Taiwan Strait.
As defense minister, Dong will be the public face of the People’s Liberation Army and hold high-level talks with other militaries, including the U.S.
Dong’s extensive naval experience shows Xi’s priorities
The appointment of a navy admiral who has served in all of the country’s major naval divisions is a sign that Beijing sees the South China Sea “as a new priority area of geopolitical contestation between China and the US,” China expert Wen-Ti Sung said. Dong held a senior post in the naval division responsible for fighting over Taiwan in the East China Sea, and before that operated in the South China Sea. China also recently promoted two other naval officers with experience in the South China Sea — a global hotspot that some have called “potentially explosive.”
Announcement could restart regular US-China military talks
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was unable to meet with Li because he was a subject of U.S. sanctions, previously said he hoped to meet his Chinese counterpart ”when that person is named.” The two nations recently resumed military talks after they were on ice for over a year. A Singapore-based scholar told Reuters that Dong “would be familiar with managing near-encounters between Chinese and U.S. military,” adding, “This is useful when he has to manage crises between both militaries.”