Former Navy chief Dong Jun was named China’s new defense minister today replacing its predecessor Li Shangfu which was terminated without explanation in October, while has disappeared from public life for four monthsthe Xinhua news agency reported, by decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Assembly.

His appointment comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping is upgrading the Chinese armed forces to make the country a dominant global power, causing concern among neighboring countries.

The role of the defense minister in China is to represent the People’s Liberation Army in relations with the media and foreign armed forces.

An important element of the role is liaising with the US military to limit risks of conflict over Taiwan and the South China Sea, two areas Dong knows well.

Before assuming command of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Dong Jun was deputy commander of the Chinese military’s Southern Sector Command, which includes the South China Sea operational zone, a battleground between Beijing and many countries in the region.

His appointment is a surprise

Analysts had expected General Liu Zhenli, chief of the general staff of the Chinese armed forces, to take over as head of the defense ministry.

Last week he held talks with his US counterpart General Charles K. Brann Jr. in the first telephone call in more than a year between military officials of the two superpowers.

The appointment of the new defense minister coincides with a reshuffle in the leadership of the Chinese army unit which is in charge of strategic missiles.

In July, Chinese authorities announced the replacement of its leadership without explanation.

Information in the media then spoke of a corruption investigation also targeting the former commander of that unit, who has also been missing for several weeks.