China’s defense minister, Gen Li Shangfu, has been absent from public view for nearly three weeks, sparking speculation that he is currently under investigation, marking another instance of a high-ranking Communist Party official vanishing from public sight.
Gen Li Shangfu’s last public appearance dates back to August 29th when he delivered a speech at the China-Africa peace and security forum. His most recent international trip occurred in mid-August, where he engaged with Russian officials during a security conference in Moscow and met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
According to Reuters, 10 individuals familiar with the matter have confirmed that Chinese authorities are conducting an investigation into Gen Li. The inquiry pertains to his involvement in the procurement of military equipment, as disclosed by a regional security official and three individuals directly connected to the Chinese military who spoke with the news agency
Li Shangfu: who is he?
Li Shangfu, a high-ranking People’s Liberation Army (PLA) general whose father participated in the Korean War after surviving the Long March, was born in February 1958.
He received a master’s degree in engineering after graduating from the PLA’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), according to Chinese media. He served at the military’s Xichang Satellite Launch Centre for more than 30 years.Li was appointed deputy commander of the military’s then-new Strategic Support Force in 2016, an exclusive team assigned to accelerate the advancement of technology for cyber and space warfare weaponry.
In the subsequent year, he was selected to head the military’s procurement division. Recognized for his unwavering loyalty to President Xi Jinping, Li assumed the position of defense minister in March. Although he holds the title of general, Li’s job primarily entails defense diplomacy, therefore his attendance at the yearly Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June was extensively scrutinized.
Li was sanctioned by Washington in 2018 for purchasing weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s largest arms exporter, even though he holds one of five State Councilor positions in the Chinese cabinet, which are seniority-level positions higher than regular ministers. Since the sanctions have not been lifted, he has declined to meet with US officials, and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s attempt to have talks during the Singapore event ended with a handshake.
Last Public Appearance:
On August 15, Li went to a security conference close to the Russian capital of Moscow. Two days later, the neighboring Belarusian government released pictures of Li meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
Li gave the opening remarks on August 29 at the Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.
According to Reuters, reliable sources confirm that Li is under investigation by Chinese authorities. The investigation revolves around the procurement of military equipment. Additionally, senior officials from the Chinese military’s procurement unit, which Li led from 2017 to 2022, are also reportedly under investigation.
As the news broke, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson expressed unawareness of the situation. Both the State Council and the Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comments. Attempts to contact Li directly have also proven futile.
The investigation into Gen Li Shangfu, along with eight other officials, is being conducted by the military’s disciplinary inspection commission, a powerful body responsible for ensuring discipline and integrity within the military ranks.
The mystery surrounding Gen Li Shangfu’s disappearance has drawn international attention. The U.S. government believes he is under investigation, as reported by the Financial Times. Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, even suggested on Twitter that Li might be under house arrest, although no official source was cited.
Li’s vanishing act is not an isolated incident. It follows the abrupt removal of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July, who has not been seen or heard from since. Additionally, two top generals of the Rocket Force were replaced in early August without any public explanation.
Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Drive
Analysts point to President Xi Jinping’s extensive anti-corruption campaign, which has targeted political opponents and senior figures within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). However, despite a decade in power and significant consolidation of authority, high-level corruption continues to raise questions.
Lack of Transparency
The international community is increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency in China’s political system. Li and Qin served as critical links to this opaque system, and their simultaneous disappearances have raised eyebrows. China’s reluctance to provide explanations has reinforced the perception of a more inward-focused approach.
The disappearance of Gen Li Shangfu, China’s defense minister, remains shrouded in mystery, with various reports and speculations circulating about the reasons behind his absence. The lack of transparency and official information from the Chinese government raises questions not only about his fate but also about the broader dynamics of power and corruption within the Chinese leadership. This case continues to capture international attention as the world awaits further developments in this puzzling saga.