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China names former missile head as new defense chief

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
March 20, 2018

Beijing introduced some changes to the National People’s Congress “cabinet” over the weekend with a promotion for its foreign minister and a new defense chief.

The changes within China’s ruling party come during a tense time between the U.S. and China, with new tariffs expected to come from the Trump Administration this week and China’s ever-increasing interest in strengthening its military.

The Manila Times reported this week that the Chinese government endorsed the appointment of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 64, as state councilor, making him a ranking member of the country’s cabinet. Yi has been involved with Chinese politics for some time and was once an ambassador to Japan.

Yi replaces Yang Jiechi, China’s former top diplomat, who will now take on a new leading role in managing Beijing’s increasingly uncertain relations with the U.S. and President Donald Trump. Jiechi is known for his positive relationships with former U.S. officials, according to the report.

China’s government reshuffle also included the naming of Gen. Wei Fenghe, 64, as minister of defense. Fenghe was at one point the head of China’s strategic missile force. In Beijing, he is seen as also having played a key role in President Xi Jinping’s efforts in reforming the military.

Fenghe will now be fourth-in-command of China’s two million-member armed forces, reporting directly to Jinping, who acts as chairman of the Central Military Commission, and two vice chairmen.

Bejing’s interest in beefing up its military has included an 8.1-percent increase in spending with the hopes of modernizing its forces and expanding capabilities. China even opened its first overseas military base on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti just last year.

This week’s changes within the Chinese government come at the heels of other appointments approved by parliament within the last few months.

U.S.-educated economic reformer Yi Gang was recently introduced as the new governor of the central bank, and Fu Zhenghua was appointed the new minister of justice. Zhenghua was at one time considered to be Beijing’s top police officer. He is also believed to have led the investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar who was jailed in 2015 during Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

Jinping was also unanimously re-elected by the Chinese parliament over the weekend. First elected in 2012, Jinping now has the opportunity to remain as the head of the People’s Republic for the rest of his life due to a new amendment passed by the parliament that removes presidential term limits.