Reports say WH believes missing Chinese defense minister removed by Xi amid anti-corruption investigation

September 16, 2023
Ben Marquis

The top Chinese military general, Defense Minister Li Shangfu, has been mysteriously missing from public appearances over the past few weeks, sparking rampant speculation with regard to his whereabouts.

A recent report indicated that top U.S. officials believe General Li has been removed from his position amid a broader "corruption purge" undertaken by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Fox News reported.

His disappearance and reported removal under investigation for corruption follows close on the heels of Xi's reported sacking of top generals in the Chinese military's Rocket Force, which oversees the communist nation's nuclear arsenal, and the former Chinese foreign minister, with all of them being accused of corruption as well.

Defense minister removed amid corruption investigation

The Financial Times on Thursday reported that according to "Three U.S. officials and two people briefed on the intelligence," General Li has been ousted from his role as defense minister and placed under investigation for alleged corruption.

One official revealed that the corruption allegations stem from Li's prior position as head of the People's Liberation Army's department of weapons procurement and development, which he led from 2017 until he was named defense minister by President Xi in October 2022.

A former CIA expert on the PLA, Dennis Wilder, told FT that the procurement department had long had a reputation as suffering the "worst corruption" of all elements of the Chinese military.

That said, while the development raises questions about the efficacy of Xi's purported anti-corruption efforts within the military, there remains some speculation that Li might have been removed from his position for other unknown reasons that have not yet been publicly revealed.

Possible purge of corrupt or disloyal officials by Xi

According to Newsweek, General Li was last seen in public on August 29 when he delivered a speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing, and despite the reports that he had been removed by President Xi, at least as of Friday Li's still appeared on the official website of the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

Since that last public appearance, Li has been missing from a few major events he otherwise would have attended, including a high-level meeting in Vietnam last week, though his absence was said to be due to an unspecified "health condition" by Chinese officials at that time.

The outlet observed that Li's disappearance and supposed ouster follows the apparent replacement in August of two senior leaders in charge of the PLA's Rocket Force unit, neither of whom has been seen in a few months.

It also comes close on the heels of the unexplained removal and replacement of missing former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in June as well as the president of the PLA's military court and a host of other lower-ranking officials, all of which has led to speculation of an ongoing purge of allegedly corrupt -- or possibly disloyal -- military and political officials by Xi.

"Xi's latest high-level purge underscores his belief that ideological cohesion, not economic performance or perceived military prowess, are the cornerstones of a nation's strength, a lesson he drew from the Soviet Union's collapse," Chris Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Newsweek. "The removal of Li and former foreign minister Qin Gang re-affirms a governing philosophy that de-emphasizes stable foreign relations in favor of a rigid ideological framework."

Ambassador Emmanuel trolls China over unexplained changes

While the Biden White House has largely been tightlipped about the apparent developments, one member of the administration, Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel, took to social media to troll the Chinese over the disappearances and replacements last week.

"President Xi's cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None," he posted. "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 to win this unemployment race? China’s youth or Xi's cabinet?"

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