Back in June China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, suddenly disappeared. By mid-July he hadn’t been seen in weeks and rumors began circulating that he must have done something to displease or embarrass the communist party. Some suggested the married foreign minister was having an affair with a Chinese TV presenter who had also suddenly disappeared. Qin Gang was removed from his position about a week later. To this day, no one knows the precise nature of his career-ending mistake.
Now it seems to be happening all over again, this time with China’s Defense Minister, General Li Shangfu. No one has seen him in about two weeks.
As is the norm in China’s opaque system of government, little is known about why Li Shangfu, 65, has not been seen in public since Aug. 29. But a rush of reports in the Western media, as well as public comments by a top U.S. diplomat, have fueled growing speculation.
His future is of great interest in the West, which will be eager to see if Li might be the latest target of a crackdown by the increasingly powerful President Xi Jinping.
So what did happen to General Li? The Washington Post is reporting that he is under investigation for corruption.
Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is under investigation for corruption and likely will be removed, two U.S. officials said this week, in what would be the latest in a series of top-tier purges of Beijing’s security ranks…
One Chinese official said that Li’s dismissal was imminent, but said it was for “health issues,” not corruption. Two people involved in the Chinese defense industry, however, said there is broad consensus that Li’s absence is related to corruption charges relating to his previous position as head of military procurement…
[In 2017] he was named as the top military procurement official, heading up the PLA Equipment Development Department, a powerful unit responsible for buying weapons.
In recent months, the procurement agency announced it had launched an investigation into alleged violations during a period that coincided with Li’s tenure as director.
In July, a notice released by the department called for tips into alleged violations in the procurement process dating to October 2017. The notice listed eight violations, including “actively leaking secrets,” “unfair handling of matters” and “lack of supervision.” It solicited tips regarding individuals who had manipulated the bidding process for personal gain.
It sounds like Gen. Li was lining his pockets. China is unlikely to ever say publicly why he was removed but, regardless, this is a big deal. Gen. Li’s title of defense minister isn’t really the equivalent to the US post of that name. However, he was one of just five state councilors to Xi Jinping, placing him at the very top of the the Chinese government. Qin Gang, the foreign minister who got dumped last month, was another one of those five state councilors. So whatever is happening in China is causing a great deal of disruption. It’s also another big embarrassment for Xi Jinping.
Mr. Xi still appears politically unassailable, with the Communist Party leadership, military top brass and security services packed with his loyalists. Even so, the sudden downfall of such high-ranking officials has exposed the pitfalls in a system so dominated by a single leader and has raised questions about Mr. Xi’s judgment because the officials in question had been promoted by him.
Su Tzu-yun, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank in Taipei that is funded by the Taiwanese government, said he was more than 90 percent sure that General Li had been removed from his post.
“For Xi Jinping, this is a loss of face, and in the Chinese military and across China, people will notice, even if they don’t say so openly,” Mr. Su said. “It’s not going to force him from power, but it will erode his prestige as ruler.”
US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel did his best impersonation of a Chinese wolf warrior diplomat yesterday.
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” 1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam. Now: He’s absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy…
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) September 15, 2023
The end of the post reads “with the Singaporean Chief of Navy because he was placed on house arrest???…Might be getting crowded in there. Good news is I heard he’s paid off his mortgage with the Country Garden real estate developers.” He had posted this a week earlier which is even better.
President Xi’s cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. First, Foreign Minister Qin Gang goes missing, then the Rocket Force commanders go missing, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen in public for two weeks. Who’s going…
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) September 8, 2023
It ends, “Who’s going to win this unemployment race? China’s youth or Xi’s cabinet?” Rahm Emanuel has always been a smart ass but I like him a lot better when he’s directing his big mouth at China.