Beijing has announced the dismissal of Defense Minister Li Shangfu after not appearing in public for two months. However, the Chinese Communists did not disclose the reason, the Hong Kong server South China Morning Post (SCMP) points out. The name of his successor is not yet known.
It is the second strange reshuffle at a key government post since Chinese President Xi Jinping made an unprecedented boost to his power at the end of the year by securing a third term at the helm of the communist regime. In July, after a long absence, the head of diplomacy, Qin Kang, resigned, the reasons are still unknown.
Li was last seen in Beijing on August 29 when he delivered a keynote speech at a security forum with African countries. He previously held high-level talks during a trip to Russia and Belarus, Al Jazeera reported in September. However, the sudden disappearances of senior Chinese officials from public life are often seen as potential signs of trouble.
The Chinese leadership announced the end of the defense minister just days before the expected arrival of a delegation from the US Pentagon to Beijing for the regional security forum. Talks at a high military level between the US and Czech Republic have been stalled for a long time, SCMP reminds.
“Unlike their counterparts in the West, however, China’s foreign and defense ministers are primarily executors of policy, not the main decision-makers,” notes the Hong Kong daily.
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Li’s withdrawal from the public sparked speculation two months ago, especially due to the aforementioned change of foreign minister in July. In recent months, there have also been upheavals in the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army’s missile forces.
In September, when speculation about Li’s fate began, the American newspaper The Washington Post, citing its sources, wrote that the minister’s absence was related to allegations of corruption in connection with his previous position as head of military procurement. The Financial Times then reported that the United States believed Li had been relieved of his duties and was being investigated by Chinese authorities.
Li, 65, was appointed to his position in March. China’s Minister of Defense deals primarily with defense diplomacy and does not command combat troops. He is less visible in public than the foreign minister, who often appears in state media.
“Li’s disappearance, coming so soon after Qin’s, speaks to how mysterious China’s elite politics can be to the outside world. China under (President) Xi just doesn’t feel the need to explain to the world,” Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told Reuters in September.
Qin Kang headed China’s diplomacy for only seven months. His predecessor Wang I replaced him in the post.
Chin’s rapid rise in the Communist Party was attributed in part to his good relationship with President Xi Jinping, so his removal after just seven months in office raised a number of questions. Chinese officials initially claimed that Chin’s absence from public view was due to health reasons.