HONG KONG, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- A Chinese commander of Beijing's South Sea fleet was promoted to head of the People's Liberation Army Navy, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.
Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, commander of China's South Sea Fleet, a key naval division that protects China-claimed assets in the South China Sea, is being given more responsibilities as members of the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump criticizes Beijing's construction of artificial islands on disputed territory.
Shen, 60, succeeds PLA Navy Adm. Wu Shengli, 71, according to the report.
Shen is a native of Shanghai and previously served as commander of the support of China's North Sea Fleet. He became a commander of the South Sea Fleet in 2014, and was promoted to the chief position in July 2016. He also served as president of Dalian Naval Academy.
In August 2014, he was the first naval commander to participate in U.S.-led Pacific Rim Navy drills.
Shen also represented China's navy delegation at a meeting of naval commanders at the U.S. Naval War College in September.
The change in personnel is taking place ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, to be held in the fall of 2017, when a Cabinet shuffle is likely to take place and leaders will determine who will succeed Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China's island-building activities have been condemned by the United States, and on Wednesday Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said he would block China's access to the islands, The Guardian reported.
Tillerson said Chinese control of the islands is like the "Russia's taking of Crimea," a strong statement that could later conflict with China, according to multiple analysts.