Exclusive-Combat veteran is top contender to replace China’s missing defence minister

BEIJING (Reuters) – Common Liu Zhenli, the top of the navy physique answerable for China’s fight operations and planning, has emerged as the highest contender to exchange the nation’s defence minister, who has not been seen in public for greater than six weeks, in response to 5 individuals acquainted with the matter.

The appointment of Liu to exchange Defence Minister Li Shangfu – which one of many individuals stated was prone to occur earlier than Beijing holds a world safety discussion board later this month – might increase navy engagement with the US amid regional tensions, three navy analysts informed Reuters.

Li was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 for an arms deal he secured with Russia in an earlier function. China has demanded the curbs – which embody a visa ban and prohibitions on conducting U.S. monetary transactions – be lifted. Liu, 59, shouldn’t be underneath Western sanctions.

At present the Chief of the Joint Workers Division of the Central Army Fee (CMC), Liu was described as Li’s probably substitute by an individual with direct data of the matter, in addition to two individuals near the navy and two regional officers with shut data of Chinese language politics. They spoke on situation of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the knowledge.

China’s defence ministry and State Council info workplace didn’t reply to requests for remark. Reuters was unable to succeed in Liu himself for remark.

The U.S. Division of Protection didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Li’s absence has not been formally defined, although Reuters reported final month that he was underneath investigation for corrupt procurement of navy tools in a earlier function.

If his departure is confirmed, Li would be the second senior minister to lose his job in current months.

Qin Gang was eliminated as overseas minister in July, one month after he was final seen in public.

It’s unclear whether or not Li will retain his place as certainly one of China’s 5 state councillors, a publish outranking an everyday minister. Qin has not been formally faraway from his publish as state councillor.

Any determination to enhance military-to-military ties – frozen by Beijing when then-U.S. Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August 2022 – could be made by President Xi Jinping, who has the last word say in all necessary insurance policies and appointments.

Xi can be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and chair of the CMC, China’s prime defence decision-making physique, on which Liu already sits.

The individual with direct data of the matter stated Liu’s appointment would probably be introduced earlier than overseas defence officers go to Beijing on Oct. 29-31 for the Xiangshan Discussion board, a significant worldwide safety seminar.

Procedurally, the appointment and removing of high-level officers is introduced by the Nationwide Individuals’s Congress Standing Committee, which takes steering from the Chinese language Communist Celebration’s elite Politburo. The politburo is predicted to fulfill on the finish of this month.

“If Xi Jinping is certainly intent on re-engaging in top-level navy engagement with the U.S., this might properly current a possibility for the Pentagon to lastly reconnect with the (Individuals’s Liberation Military) excessive command,” stated James Char, a scholar at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam Faculty of Worldwide Research.

Reuters reported Wednesday that Washington has accepted an invite to the Xiangshan Discussion board, although it’s unlikely that Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin will personally attend.


China’s Minister of Nationwide Defence has a largely diplomatic function with no direct command authority. The publish is subordinate to a handful of different officers from the CMC, together with the 2 vice chairmen underneath Xi.

Liu’s appointment might elevate the profile of the job, 5 analysts and navy attaches informed Reuters.

His current expertise main the Joint Workers Division would permit overseas counterparts to take care of a determine on the centre of China’s navy operations and conflict planning, slightly than a mere technocrat.

U.S. defence officers have lengthy wished to reestablish routine communications with counterparts immediately concerned in command choices.

“This might actually assist breathe some oxygen into China’s navy diplomacy,” stated Singapore-based defence analyst Alexander Neill, an adjunct fellow on the Pacific Discussion board, a overseas coverage analysis institute in Honolulu.

“Lastly, the U.S. might need somebody they’d actually wish to speak to,” he stated.

Liu can be one of many few current Chinese language navy leaders with fight expertise, having been concerned in intense border fights with Vietnamese troops in 1986 – a part of years of skirmishes that adopted Beijing’s invasion of northern Vietnam in 1979, in response to Chinese language media studies.


Defence diplomacy is seen by diplomats and analysts as an necessary a part of Xi’s push for a modernized navy that may help China’s rising worldwide pursuits.

China’s ships and planes will want larger entry to ports and bases internationally to attain Xi’s aim of changing into the dominant world energy.

The removing of two senior ministers in such fast succession “highlights the extreme limitation of Xi’s one-man rule,” stated Willy Lam, senior fellow at U.S. assume tank Jamestown Basis.

“He prioritised loyalty over functionality and honesty when selecting who to place in energy. Look how they turned out?”

Xi has made combating corruption a precedence, significantly throughout the navy, since he first grew to become president. His defenders say the centralisaton of energy is required if China is efficiently to navigate international tensions.

Qin was made overseas minister in Dec. 2022 and Li grew to become defence minister in March. State information company Xinhua reported in October 2022 that Xi selected the senior appointments after personally conducting interviews with all the possible candidates.

Air Drive commander Chang Dingqiu is about to take over from Liu as Chief of the Joint Workers Division, in response to three of the individuals acquainted with the state of affairs.

(Reporting by Reuters newsroom; Enhancing by Katerina Ang and Daniel Flynn)

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