General Li Shangfu, 65, is a Chinese aerospace engineer who is currently serving as General of the People’s Liberation Army. In March 2023, he assumed office as the 13th minister of national defence under Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Office of the State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China.
He has previously served as head of the Equipment Development Department of China’s Central Military Commission between 2017-2022. He has also served as Deputy Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force and the Deputy Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Armaments Department.
General Li Shangfu entered politics in 2017 when he was elected as a member of the 19th central committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
Sanctions against China’s newly appointed defence minister began in 2018 when the United States of America added General Li Shangfu to the list putting sanctions on him for being party to a list of transactions with individuals who were associated with Russia directly or its intelligence sectors. Since General Li was the director of the Equipment Development Department he was sanctioned along with the department by the United States for his role in the acquisition of SU-35 fighter aircraft and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and system-related equipment from Russia under CAATSA.
CAATSA;i.e, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act is an American federal law that places sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia.
It is being apprehended that China’s naming of General Li Shangfu as its news Defence Minister could create the possibility of additional problems for the conduct of smooth and peaceful bilateral military dialogues between China and the United States of America as the two nations are already at the brim of geopolitical tensions and the appointment of U.S Sanctioned General Li as the defence minister could spill over into an escalated conflict between the two global superpowers.
Not just United States, General Li’s appointment followed a warning by China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang stating that there would surely be a conflict between the United States and China and the only way a conflict could be prevented is if the United States decided to change its decision of imposing sanctions or acting otherwise.
It is being apprehended that with the China-Taiwan issue in the limelight along with the recent Chinese balloon that the United States shot down China’s defence minister would repeatedly be in the limelight despite his limited power relative to other government members. This may further disrupt already poor communication between the United States and China.
General Li on China’s massive advancements
With General Li’s appointment, it is expected that China will make massive advancements in aerospace defence technology as the new defence minister played an important role in the launch of China’s first Lunar probe during his tenure at Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. His work profile also includes the launch of anti-satellite missiles.
Observers also believe that the newly elected defence minister’s role is a purely symbolic one as he has no involvement in operational leadership which aligns with the preferences and interests of the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party.
They also further pointed out the significance of Russian equipment procurement in General Li’s appointment as defence Minister. Other observers believe that his family background, that is, his father’s role as field commander of the Northwest Field Army during the Chinese civil war which belonged to the same faction as President Xi Jinping’s father may have also played a major role.