BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese space official and military officer has been promoted to run the People’s Liberation Army’s key equipment development department, the military said on Monday, part of a reshuffle ahead of next month’s Communist Party congress.
China’s armed forces, the world’s largest, are ramping up their capabilities with new equipment like aircraft carriers and stealth fighters as the country pursues a more assertive stance in the disputed East and South China Seas and seeks to project power far from home shores.
In a brief story on its website about a military technology exhibition in Beijing, the Defence Ministry named Li Shangfu as the new head of the military’s Equipment Development Department. It gave no other details of his appointment.
According to his official resume, Li was previously director of one of China’s main satellite launch sites in Xichang in the southwestern province of Sichuan and has been involved in missions to explore the moon.
The U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets in a crisis.
China insists it has only peaceful ambitions in space, but has tested anti-satellite missiles.
Li, 59, takes over from Zhang Youxia, who has likely reached retirement age.
Li could be promoted to Zhang’s position on the Central Military Commission, which is in overall charge of the People’s Liberation Army, when the party holds its once-in-five-years congress in Beijing next month.
However, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters that the commission may be cut down to Xi and four vice-chairmen, doing away with committee members and streamlining reporting lines.
President Xi Jinping, who is commander-in-chief of China’s armed forces, currently chairs the commission, which also comprises two vice-chairmen and eight committee members.
China’s military is preparing a sweeping leadership reshuffle, dropping top generals, including two that sources say are under investigation for corruption.
China earlier this month also appointed new commanders for its army and air force.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry