• Li Shangfu will replace outgoing defense chief Wei Fenghe
  • The Trump administration sanctioned Li in 2018 for buying Russian weapons
  • Li is an aerospace expert, who oversaw the launch of China's first anti-satellite missile

China's rubber-stamp legislature unanimously named General Li Shangfu – an official sanctioned by the United States – as the country's new defense minister and state councilor Sunday.

A part and parcel of the People's Liberation Army's modernization drive, Li Shangfu will replace outgoing defense chief Wei Fenghe after he stepped down from the Central Military Commission at the Communist Party's congress last October. The CMC is China's governing defense body operating under the leadership of premier Xi Jinping.

Li's appointment as the defense minister came as a part of a major cabinet reshuffle by Xi, who was recently elected as the president for a third five-year term.

The appointment could further strain ties between Beijing and Washington. In 2018, former President Donald Trump's administration sanctioned Li and the Equipment Development Department of China for buying Russian weapons such as an S-400 surface-to-air missile system and Su-35 combat aircraft from Moscow's main arms exporter Rosoboronexport, reported CNN. He was heading the Equipment Development Department to oversee Chinese defense technology at the time.

"China took delivery from Russia of ten Su-35 combat aircraft in December 2017 and an initial batch of S-400 (a.k.a. SA-21) surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018," the State Department said in its statement.

The U.S. imposed a wide array of sanctions on the 65-year-old general, the Equipment Development Department and Russian entities, including a ban on foreign exchange transactions, a visa ban and the blocking of all their properties within the U.S.

Who is General Li Shangfu?

In October, Li became the first soldier from the PLA's "Strategic Support Force" to join the military commission. He served in the Strategic Support Force as its inaugural chief of staff and deputy commander in 2016. The elite body was set up to strengthen the space and cyber warfare capabilities of the defense force, Reuters reported.

A graduate of the National University of Defence Technology in China, Li played a crucial role in supervising the launch of China's first lunar probe mission. He was working at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at the time. He also oversaw the successful launch of China's first anti-satellite missile. With the latest appointment, China is seeking to make the most of Li's background in aerospace defense technology.

Between 2013 and 2015, Li worked as the chief of staff and then as deputy director at the General Armaments Department. He was appointed as the head of the Equipment Development Department during a civil-military fusion forum in 2017.

China's President Xi Jinping is set to be handed a norm-busting third term in office by the country's rubber-stamp parliament Friday