- China’s Defense Minister’s Absence Sparks Speculation
- Unexplained Disappearances of Senior Chinese Officials
- Concerns Over Corruption and Military Activity in China
A top American ambassador questioned China’s military minister Li Shangfu’s absence, reigniting corruption purge rumours.
General Li has reportedly not been seen in public for approximately two weeks and has missed multiple meetings.
The US ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, speculated on Mr. Li’s absence by tweeting that the “unemployment rate” in the Chinese government was extremely high.
Mr. Li’s absence follows the recent dismissal of several senior military officials.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Mr. Li is being fired, citing US and Chinese sources.
It also comes months after the disappearance of foreign minister Qin Gang. The unexpected absence and replacement of Mr. Qin in July remain unexplained.
Also in Gen Li’s case, the Chinese government has said little. When asked about the situation earlier this week, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said she was uninformed.
Gen Li’s last public appearance was a security forum with African states in Beijing on August 29. It is not uncommon for defense ministers to disappear from public view for several weeks.
From a satellite and rocket launch centre, aeronautical engineer General Li rose quickly in the military and Chinese political elite.
Similarly, Mr. Qin is said to be President Xi Jinping’s preference. He is also the second cabinet minister and state councilor to go missing in recent months, following Mr. Qin.
When two generals in China’s rocket forces, which oversee land-based missiles, were replaced at the beginning of August, online rumors of a military corruption purge began to grow. Months after his appointment, the president of the army’s military court was also removed from office.
Mr. Emanuel highlighted Gen. Li’s absence in tweets sent last week and on Friday. While also referencing the disappearance of Mr. Qin and the other military officials.
In addition, he noted that General Li had recently failed to appear for a voyage to Vietnam and a meeting in Beijing with Singapore’s navy chief, alleging that General Li could have been placed under house arrest.
The outspoken ambassador, known for his colorful tweets, likened the absence to the Agatha Christie mystery And Then There Were None and the tragedy Hamlet by William Shakespeare. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Mr. Emanuel tweeted on Friday.
According to a Reuters report citing Vietnamese officials, Mr. Li abruptly canceled a meeting with Vietnamese defense executives last week, citing a “health condition”.
Navy Chief of Singapore Sean Wat visited China and met with military officials last week.
Three months after Mr. Qin disappeared, “health conditions” were cited and a corruption purge was suspected. Since then, he has been dismissed from his position.
According to reports, Chinese officials rarely miss important meetings for health reasons because they routinely undergo rigorous medical examinations.
Gen Li is a controversial figure. In 2018, he was sanctioned by the US government for China’s purchases of Russian combat aircraft and weaponry while he was leading the military’s equipment development arm.
Gen Li refused to meet Lloyd Austin at a Singapore defence forum earlier this year due to penalties.
Mr. Xi’s risky policies and Gen Li’s disappearance are believed to demonstrate Chinese political leadership’s opaqueness.
According to Neil Thomas, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Asia Society Policy Institute, “High-level disappearances and potential corruption investigations are not a good look for Xi, as he approved the selection of the current leadership.”
However, he noted that “Xi’s leadership and overall political stability do not appear to be in jeopardy. As none of the affected cadres are members of his inner circle.”
Analyst Bill Bishop noted that the Chinese military has a “long history of corruption” and that Mr. Xi – who, under China’s political structure, is also the supreme commander of China’s military – has attempted to combat it in the same manner as his predecessors.
Nonetheless, he observed in his most recent analysis that “it would be remarkable” that after more than a decade of Mr. Xi’s rule “there is still such high-level corruption [in the military], and Xi cannot blame his predecessors for the Rocket Force officers and Li Shangfu.”
Mr. Xi said “more purges will likely be viewed as the solution.” He elevated Gen. Li, Mr. Qin, and the rocket force commanders.
Ian Chong, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie China, also noted that the disappearances are occurring during a period of increased military activity near Taiwan and tensions in the South China Sea.
In recent days, Chinese warships, including the Shandong aircraft carrier, have gathered in the Taiwan Strait, sparking fears of a new round of naval exercises.
As the military and foreign ministry are essential outward-facing components of the Chinese system. Some “would be concerned about communication, escalation, and crisis management” at present, according to Dr. Chong.
High-ranking US diplomats rarely tweet, especially ambassadors to Japan, a key US ally with a strained relationship with China.
Brad Glosserman, a senior adviser with the Pacific Forum research organization, stated, “I am pretty sure he has the go-ahead from the White House” to be highlighting Gen Li’s absence in this manner.
Dr. Chong stated, “Mr. Emanuel may be attempting to elicit a response from China regarding the disappearance.”