Chinese lawmakers on Friday approved the appointment of Adm. Dong Jun, the former commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the position of defense minister, state Xinhua news agency said.
The decision was passed at the closing meeting of the 7th session of the Standing Committee of the 14th National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature.
The defense minister’s post had been vacant since October, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping signed a presidential decree removing Li Shangfu as Minister of National Defense. Li was also ousted from the State Council, or the central government of China.
No reasons were given for the removal of Li, who became defense minister and state councillor just seven months prior and had been missing from public view since Aug. 29.
Reuters, citing several people in direct contact with the Chinese military, reported in September that Li was under investigation by Chinese authorities in connection with the procurement of military equipment.
Dong was born in 1961 in Shandong province. He joined the PLAN in 1978 and was promoted to the rank of admiral in 2021.
Dong left his post as PLAN commander earlier this week. His successor is Adm. Hu Zhongming, who until December 2023 held the position of the navy’s chief of staff.
Hu’s appointment was seen by analysts as an indication of China’s increasing focus on maritime affairs, especially in the disputed South China Sea.
Dong has not yet been appointed to the state council or to the Central Military Commission but those appointments could be made in the coming months. China’s defense ministers normally serve on all three fronts – the military, the Communist Party’s military commission and the cabinet.
“As the former commander of the Navy, Dong engaged in various military diplomatic activities,” said a report in the China Daily.
The Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece listed several exchanges that Dong took part in, including a video call with the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Navy and the leading role in joint military exercises between Chinese and foreign forces.
Dong’s experience on the military diplomatic front could be seen as positive for renewing the military-to-military ties between China and the United States that have been disrupted for some time.
Only last week, Gen. C.Q. Brown, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liu Zhenli, via video links after an almost 18-month-long freeze in direct talks.
Direct communications were severed by China’s military leaders following then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August last year, which led to nearly a year of animosity between Beijing and Washington.
Jun also has first-hand experience in dealing with issues related to Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Between 2013-2014, he was deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet, now the Eastern Theatre Command Navy, responsible for the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
Dong also served as deputy commander of the Southern Theater Command from 2017 to 2021 before becoming deputy commander and commander of the PLA Navy.
The Southern Theater Command is one of the PLA’s five major theater commands. Its primary area of responsibility is the South China Sea.