The disappearance of China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu, has sparked confusion and intrigue. This high-ranking official has not made any public appearances for over a fortnight. Li assumed the role of defense minister back in March, having previously served as the head of the CMC’s Equipment Development Department for a five-year tenure. Currently, he is the subject of an investigation regarding the procurement of weapons from Russia in 2018 during his previous position.
The most recent sighting of Li occurred on August 29 in Beijing during the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum, where he delivered a keynote address. Vietnamese authorities had anticipated his participation in a regular meeting with Vietnamese defense leaders but received a last-minute cancellation citing a purported health condition. An official source in Beijing informed the Wall Street Journal that Li has been taken in for questioning by authorities, though no official explanation has been provided.
When questioned about Li’s absence from the public eye, Mao Ning, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, asserted a lack of awareness regarding the situation. It’s worth noting that official Chinese government websites still list Li as the Defense Minister, a member of the CMC, and a State Councilor.
The mystery surrounding Li’s disappearance becomes even more intriguing when considering the recent vanishing act of another Chinese official. Qin Gang, the former Chinese foreign minister, was relieved of his duties in July following a month-long absence. Furthermore, in the same month, there were sudden replacements in the ranks of the Rocket Force, involving two members.
The Rocket Force constitutes an elite division within the People’s Liberation Army responsible for overseeing both nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals. Notably, a commander who was subsequently relieved of his position had been conspicuously absent from public view for several months before his removal.
U.S. authorities hold the belief that Li is currently under investigation and is likely to face removal from his post. These recent disruptions raise doubts regarding the leadership capabilities of Xi Jinping, who serves as the President of the People’s Republic of China. According to Yun Sun, who holds the role of director for the China Program at the Stimson Center, these events suggest that Xi Jinping’s standing in domestic politics may be in question.