Li Shangfu: Where is China’s Defense Minister?

Li Shangfu

A planned trip by the minister to Vietnam was canceled at short notice.

(Photo: dpa)

Beijing China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu has not appeared in public for almost three weeks. There has been speculation about his whereabouts for days.

US government circles now assume that Li is being investigated. This is reported by the business newspaper “Financial Times” and cites several sources with access to secret US information. Last week, Rahm Emanuel, US ambassador to Japan, pointed out Li Shangfu’s absence, thereby fueling speculation.

In a new tweet on Friday, Emanuel pointed out that Li’s planned trip to Vietnam had not taken place, nor had a planned meeting with the head of the Singapore Navy. “Because he is under house arrest??” asked the ambassador. “It could get tight there,” the diplomat continued. Foreign Minister Qin Gang disappeared in July and was then replaced without explanation.

Officially, Beijing justified Li’s canceled trip to Vietnam with reference to his “health condition,” the Reuters news agency quoted two Vietnamese officials as saying. But China watchers are now speculating whether Li’s absence could be related to investigations into two senior generals in the People’s Liberation Army Missile Force.

Before their dismissal two months ago, the generals were responsible for the rapidly growing arsenal of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. Procurement in China’s military is considered particularly vulnerable to corruption. Li was formerly head of the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Development Department.

State and party leader Xi Jinping, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has taken tough action against corruption since the beginning of his term in office and has also eliminated political opponents in this way. A major new corruption case, particularly involving Li Shangfu, who was only appointed defense minister in March, would be all the more remarkable. Like former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, he is likely to have enjoyed Xi’s trust.

Former Foreign Minister Qin Gang remains missing

There is currently no news about Qin’s whereabouts. What is striking, however, is the proximity between his disappearance and the investigations against the two generals.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Emanuel quoted from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and captioned his tweet with the hashtag #MysteryInBeijingBuilding. It is quite unusual for diplomats to fuel such speculation. Especially since Li has been on a US sanctions list since 2018 because, as a general in the People’s Liberation Army, he was responsible for the purchase of combat aircraft and armaments from the Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

Citing these sanctions, Li and the Chinese government have so far refused to resume military dialogue between the two world powers. However, as a result of the radio silence, the risk of misunderstandings is growing, experts warn, particularly with regard to the simmering conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Replacing Li would probably not be inconvenient for the USA.

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