China’s Defense Minister, Li Shangfu, was recently removed from his position in a surprising turn of events. His disappearance from public view two months earlier had sparked rumors about his fate. Li’s removal follows a series of unexplained personnel changes in China’s government, raising questions about how power is concentrated and party discipline is enforced under Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
- Li Shangfu was not only removed from his role as Defense Minister but also from his positions as a member of the Central Military Commission and one of China’s five state councillors, which are powerful state roles.
- The decision to remove him was approved by the National People’s Congress, but his successor was not named.
Speculation Over Li’s Fate
- Li had not been seen in public since late August, leading to much speculation about what happened to him.
- His disappearance comes after the removal of former Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July.
- These rapid changes in leadership have raised questions about how China’s political system is managed under Xi.
National Security and Diplomatic Implications
- Interestingly, Li’s removal could have an impact on high-level military talks between China and the United States.
- Li was sanctioned by the US in 2018 over China’s purchase of Russian weapons.
- Beijing had suggested that the US defense secretary wouldn’t be able to meet with Li unless the sanctions were lifted.
Limited Role of Chinese Defense Minister
- It’s worth noting that in China, the role of the defense minister is largely ceremonial.
- The defense minister serves as the public face of military diplomacy with other countries but does not have command power, which resides with the Central Military Commission.
Xi’s Emphasis on Loyalty and Discipline
- Before Li’s disappearance, Xi held a meeting with the military’s top leaders, emphasizing the importance of political loyalty, discipline, and the Communist Party’s absolute control over the armed forces.
- This meeting was followed by the removal of top generals from the PLA Rocket Force, raising concerns about a broader military purge.
The Mystery of Li’s Disappearance
- The Chinese government has not provided any official information about Li’s whereabouts or the reasons for his absence.
- Reports from sources close to Beijing suggest that he may have been taken away for questioning or placed under investigation.
- Li Shangfu, 65, had a long career in China’s military and was considered a protege of General Zhang Youxia, one of Xi’s close allies in the military.
- Li held a key position in China’s weapon procurement, and his removal coincided with a crackdown on corrupt procurement practices.
Last Public Appearance
- Li was last seen in public on August 29 when he delivered a speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.
- His last international trip was to Russia and Belarus in mid-August.