With the world’s eyes fixated on Free China amid heightened provocations and as voters head to the polls on Saturday, Communist China has been busy making strategic moves that suggest its wider political and military objectives — and hint at how it might go about achieving them. For Beijing, Taiwan is one piece of a much larger geostrategic puzzle.

Most significant has been the appointment of Admiral Dong Jun as China’s new defense minister. Admiral Dong, a career surface warfare officer and previous Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, is the first-ever naval officer to head China’s defense forces. His appointment signals China’s transformation from a traditional land-power-only nation to one that is, indeed, becoming a “truly great maritime power.”

Admiral Dong’s appointment also suggests China’s heightened focus on joint military operations in pursuit of its sovereignty claims — and efforts to project power further afield. Between 2013 and 2014, Admiral Dong commanded the East China Sea Joint Operations Command Center, established in 2013 as a “special joint operations command headquarters” for military operations in the East China Sea.