US Sanctions on China’s Likely Next Defense Minister May Complicate Dialogue

The S sanctioned Li Shangfu over China's purchase of Russian jets and S-400 air defense systems

US sanctions on China’s likely incoming defense minister may complicate the two nations’ plans to resume military dialogues that Beijing suspended in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visiting Taiwan, The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in talks on Monday that maintaining communications was important, and China’s current defense minister, Wei Fenghe, is expected to represent Beijing in upcoming military talks. But Wei will be replaced in March, and his likely replacement, Li Shangfu, is under US sanctions.

The Post report said that China is going to bring up the issue of the sanctions on Li in talks between Wei and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The US imposed sanctions on Li in 2018 over China’s purchase of Russian Su-35 combat jets and S-400 air defense missile systems.

At the time of the purchase, Li served as the head of China’s Equipment Development Department. The US targeted Li and the department with sanctions using the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which the US also invoked to sanction Turkey for purchasing S-400s

The sanctions on Li could be a test of how serious President Biden is about maintaining communications with Beijing. After meeting with Xi, Biden said that Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan would soon “be engaging with their counterparts from China.”

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.