The disappearance of the Minister of Defense in China is a sign of a crisis in the administration

In China, Defense Minister Li Shangfu’s absence from public appearances for more than 3 weeks and allegations that he has been dismissed indicate a crisis in the administration and possible political turmoil in the country.

After Foreign Minister China Gang disappeared for a long time and was dismissed in July, the fate of Defense Minister Li is now uncertain.

The rapid fall from grace of two ministers, members of the State Council, who were appointed as dignitaries at the General Assembly of the National People’s Congress of China in March, reveals the signs of a crisis in the administration.

Minister Li last spoke at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum held in Beijing on August 29. Li, who did not engage in any official activity after this date, did not attend President Xi Jinping’s inspection visit to the 78th Army Group stationed in the northeast of the country on September 8.

In the statement of the Ministry of Defense, it was stated that Xi was “accompanied by General Cang Youshia, Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and other high-ranking military officials” during the visit, while Defense Minister Li’s name was not mentioned.

It was reported that the China-Vietnam annual defense cooperation meeting, which Li was expected to attend on the same dates, was canceled by Beijing, citing the Chinese Minister’s “health problem”.

“Corruption investigation” allegation

The US newspaper Washington Post, in its report based on “unnamed American officials”, claimed that a “corruption investigation” was launched against Li and that the Minister was dismissed.

Reports in the international media claimed that the investigation was linked to corruption in the procurement of military hardware.

The Hardware Development Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced at the end of July, about a month before Li’s disappearance, that an investigation had been launched due to “regulatory and disciplinary violations” in the military hardware procurement and tender processes. He stated that reports regarding “inappropriate behavior” detected since his time as Head of Department would be evaluated.

Before taking office, Defense Minister Li served as head of the Hardware Development Department of the Central Military Commission between 2017 and 2022. While serving in this position, Li was placed on the sanctions list by the United States in 2018, on the grounds that he had a role in the purchase of Su-35 warplanes and the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

It came after the dismissal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Li’s retreat from public view and the allegations against him follow the disappearance and subsequent dismissal of former Foreign Minister China Gang in July.

Similarly, Çin Gang disappeared for about 3 weeks and did not attend previously planned international meetings during this period, citing “health problems”, and was eventually dismissed without any reason on July 25. The fate of the former Minister is still unknown.

Like China Gang, Li was appointed as a principal at the General Assembly of the National People’s Congress in March and began his duties.

The rapid fall from grace of two ministers who are members of the State Council, which performs the cabinet function in China, is interpreted as “a sign that the pieces in the administration have moved and the balances have changed.”

As in the case of China Gang, Chinese authorities refrain from sharing information or commenting on Li’s fate.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Mao Ning stated that he was “not aware of the situation” in his response to a question on the subject at the daily press conference held in Beijing on September 15.

The question about Li and Speaker Mao’s response were not included in the transcript of the meeting published by the Ministry.

“Corruption in the army” investigations

Xi has made the fight against corruption one of his most fundamental policies since he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and then President in 2012.

While many high-level officials were targeted within the scope of corruption investigations involving the party, state administration and public enterprises in the Xi government, it is also claimed that the investigations were used to ensure adherence to the political line and to eliminate rivals and opponents.

Some officials of the armed forces had previously been investigated in the anti-corruption campaign.

While General Guo Boshiong, a former deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission, was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery in 2016, General Shu Cayhou, who was under investigation for corruption, died of cancer in 2015 before he could be brought to a military court.

In 2017, Central Military Commission Member and Chief of the General Staff Department General Fang Finghui suddenly disappeared, then was expelled from the Communist Party in 2018 and sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption in 2019.

Corruption investigations have recently targeted the Rocket Forces, which are responsible for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) strategic deterrence-critical nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

The Disciplinary Inspection Commission within the Central Military Commission reported on July 28 that the current commander of the Rocket Forces, Li Yuchao, his deputy Liu Guangbin, as well as his former deputy Cang Jincong, were being investigated. While the commander and his deputy were dismissed, new appointments were made in their places.

The investigation, which targeted the force where Li’s predecessor, Defense Minister Vey Finghi, was once the commander, signaled that the anti-corruption campaign in the armed forces would continue.

His father was a Red Army General

Li Shanfu, like President Xi, comes from a family that belongs to the first cadres of the Communist revolution led by Mao Zedong. Li’s father was a senior officer in the then-Red Army’s Railway Corps.

Li, who was born in 1958 in Chingdu, the center of Sichuan province in the north of the country, studied aerospace engineering at the National Defense Technology University.

After his graduation, Li started working at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichuan province and became the commander of the center in 2003. During this period, he coordinated many launches of the Chang’i-1 and Chang’i-2 reconnaissance vehicles, which were part of China’s lunar exploration program.

Li became Chief of Staff of the Central Military Commission, then known as the “General Armaments Department”, in 2013, and Deputy Commander in 2014.

Li, who was appointed deputy commander of the PLA’s newly established Strategic Support Force responsible for space, cyberspace and electronic warfare in 2016, became the head of the Central Military Commission, newly named “Hardware Development Department”, in September 2017.

Li, who was elected to the Central Committee of the party’s top governing body at the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017, was elected as a member of the Central Military Commission at the 20th CPC National Congress in October 2022, and then was appointed minister of defense at the 14th National People’s Congress in March 2023.

While the Ministry of Defense has not yet made a statement about Li’s disappearance, his name is still mentioned as “Minister of Defense and Member of the Central Military Commission” on the Ministry’s website.

In the 7-person Central Military Commission chaired by President and Party General Secretary Xi, two more senior generals serve as vice presidents, while the defense minister is a member.

While the defense minister in China is mostly responsible for military diplomacy and structuring, he does not play a direct role in the management of operational forces. (AA)

By Editor

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