China has appointed Li Shangfu, a US-sanctioned general, defense minister this Sunday in a move that perfectly reflects the turbulent state of relations between Beijing and Washington, with the shadow of Moscow in the background. Li, 65 years old and with a long military career linked to the Asian giant’s aerospace program, was included in the US blacklist in 2018, when he was in charge of the weapons department, for his responsibility in the purchase of fighters and security systems. Russian-made anti-aircraft shells.
The appointment comes at a time when the diplomatic channels between China and the United States are going through a critical period of lack of communication and mistrust due to the tension surrounding Taiwan and the recent shooting down by Washington of a Chinese balloon that crossed US territory without permission. .
Li’s election has received the approval of the National People’s Congress (the Chinese Legislature) on a day in which the renewal of the main positions of the new Government has been completed, after Xi Jinping was sworn in as president on Friday for a third term, and that Li Qiang, one of the president’s trusted men and number two in the Communist Party, was elevated to prime minister on Saturday. The parliamentary session concludes on Monday with a speech by the head of state and an appearance before the media by the prime minister.
The appointment of Li Shangfu “was to be expected, it is not an accident,” explains Dr. Lin Ying-Yu, an assistant professor at Tamkang University (Taiwan), specializing in the capabilities of the Chinese army. “But keep in mind that the PRC defense minister basically has no real power. It is the Central Military Commission (the highest military body, whose presidency has been revalidated by Xi Jinping this week) that can command the People’s Liberation Army”.
The sanctions against the new Minister of Defense are born from a previous era, but in which the dark clouds of today were already looming. They were imposed by the Administration of Donald Trump together with a battery of measures directed against Russian companies in order to “impose costs” on Moscow “in response to its interference in the electoral process of the United States, its unacceptable behavior in eastern Ukraine and other malicious activities,” according to a statement issued at the time by the State Department.
Beijing has this week voiced a sharp line of defense against mounting US pressure in areas ranging from trade sanctions to the blockade in the advanced microchip sector. President Xi — little given to direct finger pointing — on Monday denounced Washington’s strategy aimed at curbing China’s rise. “Western countries, led by the United States, are implementing a complete containment and suppression of China, which poses unprecedented challenges to our development,” he said. The new foreign minister, Qin Gang, added on Tuesday that if the United States “does not step on the brakes” there is a risk of “conflict.”
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Among the changes approved this Sunday, that of Ding Xuexiang, 60, as the highest-ranking vice prime minister, stands out. Ding, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest power body of the Communist Party, served as Xi’s chief of staff during his time as party secretary in Shanghai and is “one of his most faithful confidants,” according to an institute biography. Brookings, based in Washington.
He Lifeng, 68, until now at the head of the National Development and Reform Commission -the body in charge of planning-, will be the new deputy prime minister in charge of the economy of a country that is trying to reactivate confidence after the pandemic and faces the potentially disruptive geopolitical turmoil with moderate optimism: it expects to grow around 5% in 2023, according to the forecast set by the Government last week. Yi Gang, 65, will repeat as Governor of the People’s Bank of China (the Central Bank), just like Finance Minister Liu Kun, 66, a gesture with which Beijing seems to want to send a message of stability and credibility.
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