- General Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister, hasn’t been seen in public for more than two weeks.
- US officials have said Li is under investigation, The New York Times reported.
- Li has been accused of corruption over the procurement of military equipment, reports say.
US officials said China’s defense minister Li Shangfu was under investigation by authorities and had likely been removed from his position after he was taken away for questioning by authorities last week, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Sources in direct contact with the Chinese military said the defense minister was suspected of corruption in procuring military equipment. A further eight officials from the government’s military procurement unit, which General Li led from 2017 to 2022, are under investigation, two sources told Reuters.
Li, who has not been seen in public for more than two weeks, is the latest in a string of unexplained disappearances of high-ranking Chinese officials.
Foreign minister Qin Gang vanished from public view for a month in June, The New York Times reported. He was replaced by Wang Yi in July.
It comes two months after Xi Jinping, China’s president, also replaced two of his most senior military commanders who were in charge of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
A US official told The Journal that General Li’s dismissal indicated problems with Xi’s years-long campaign to reform the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military.
“Some of the PLA’s enduring problems may be too big for Xi to solve, and they have a real impact on the PLA’s ability to achieve what he wants them to,” the official said. “We know that corruption in the PLA runs deep enough for this to be a factor. And we know it’s had a profound effect on what they’re able to do, and how they do it.”
Su Tzu-yun, an expert on the Chinese military from the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a Taiwan-funded think-tank, told The Times that the investigation signaled a “loss of face” for Xi Jinping, who had appointed General Li to the post in March.
“It’s not going to force him from power, but it will erode his prestige as ruler,” Su added.
General Li, 65, has not been seen in public for almost three weeks, and he canceled a scheduled meeting he was due to attend in Vietnam last week, Reuters reported.
Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, wondered if Li had been “placed under house arrest,” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.