China names former missile force commander defense minister

BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday appointed a former missile force commander as its new defense minister amid lingering concerns over the goals of its rapid military modernization.

Lt. Gen. Wei Fenghe’s naming as the international face of China’s military was among a series of appointments by the ceremonial legislature on the penultimate day of its annual session.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi was reappointed as China’s top diplomat and also promoted to state counselor, while Zhao Kezhi was confirmed as minister of public security in charge of the police.

Chen Wenqing, a former top official in the ruling Communist Party’s graft-busting agency, remains minister of state security responsible for espionage and counterintelligence.

China has increasingly been deploying its intelligence agencies overseas to track down those accused of high-level corruption, along with other perceived regime opponents and critics who have moved abroad.

As defense minister, Wei is outranked by President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, and two vice chairmen, but will be the main interface between China’s 2 million-member armed forces and the rest of the world’s militaries.

China’s increased its military budget by 8.1 percent this year to about $173 billion, making it again the world’s second-largest behind the U.S.

Wei was named head of the 2nd Artillery in 2012, then remained head of the missile command after it was renamed the Rocket Force in 2016 amid a reorganization of military units.

The head of the U.S. Strategic Command considers China’s ballistic missile program the world’s “most active and diverse.” It includes a range of short- and intermediate-range missile aimed at Taiwan, as well as road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the U.S. and its allies.

Most of China’s growing conventional and nuclear warhead-tipped missiles are of the type prohibited by the U.S.-Russian Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That has led to calls in both Moscow and Washington for a reassessment of the treaty to deal with a potential threat from China and others.

China’s Cabinet is headed by Premier Li Keqiang, the No. 2 leader of the ruling Communist Party, who was reappointed to a second five-year term by the legislature on Sunday.

The vote came a day after party leader Xi Jinping was reappointed China’s president with no limits on how many terms he can serve.

The legislature also approved the appointment of Yang Xiaodu as director for the National Supervisory Commission, created from a merger of the party’s internal anti-graft watchdog with one that oversees civil servants. It will have the power to detain suspects for up to six months without seeking court approval.

A marathon anti-corruption campaign led by Xi has snared thousands of government officials and managers of state companies.

Xi has been steadily tightening central control over the government and state industry while also stepping up efforts to crush dissent.

On Saturday, a key Xi ally, Wang Qishan, was appointed to the previously ceremonial post of vice president.

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