China on Sunday named its new defense minister, Li Shangfu, a general who has been under US sanctions since 2018 for overseeing China’s purchase of Russian military equipment.
The US sanctions on Li could hinder the already-delicate dialogue between the US and China. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had been holding talks with Li’s predecessor, Wei Fenghe, until the Pentagon shot down a Chinese balloon that floated over the US due to unexpected weather.
After the balloon was shot down, Austin tried to call Wei, but Beijing declined the request. On February 23, Austin told CNN that he hadn’t spoken with Wei for a “couple of months.”
Li was targeted with US sanctions while he was the head of China’s Equipment Development Department, which acquired SU-35 fighter aircraft and S-400 air defense systems from Russia.
The US sanctioned Li under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was also invoked to sanction Turkey’s weapons acquisitions agency for purchasing S-400s.
Li’s appointment and the lack of dialogue between the US and Chinese militaries came after China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, warned of “conflict and confrontation” if the US does not change course on its military buildup in the Asia Pacific and other policies aimed at confronting China.