China on Friday appointed a naval commander with experience in the South China Sea as its minister of defense, filling a monthslong vacancy created by the unexplained disappearance of the previous minister, who appeared to have fallen in an investigation into possible corruption or other misdeeds.
The appointment of the commander, Adm. Dong Jun, as defense minister was finalized by China’s Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, after formal approval by lawmakers, the Xinhua news agency reported. Speculation spread earlier in the week that Admiral Dong would be named to that post after another admiral took his position as head of the Chinese navy.
The promotion of Admiral Dong may calm the uncertainty that has festered around the high ranks of the Chinese military after the disappearance and removal of the previous defense minister, Gen. Li Shangfu, as well as the top two commanders of the Rocket Force, which controls China’s nuclear missiles.
General Li had not been seen in public for about two months before he was officially removed as minister in late October. The Chinese government still has not given an explanation for his removal, but many experts believe he was probably entangled in an inquiry into taking bribes or other misconduct that also took down the Rocket Force commanders.
In China’s military hierarchy, which is controlled by the Communist Party, defense minister is not one of the most powerful posts. Instead, the minister serves as the People’s Liberation Army’s chief foreign liaison officer, meeting visiting military delegations and giving China’s views at forums such as the annual Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore.
Admiral Dong, who is in his early 60s, is not a member of the Central Military Commission, the party council overseen by Mr. Xi that controls the People’s Liberation Army. But a later party leaders’ meeting may promote him onto that commission.
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