September 29, 2023 3:03 PM

China’s Defence Minister Goes Missing: Decoding Growing List of Disappearing Chinese Leaders | EXPLAINED

China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu is reportedly missing for more than two weeks, prompting widespread speculation regarding his whereabouts and political future in the Chinese leadership circle.

The disappearance comes just months after Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang mysteriously disappeared following which he was abruptly removed from office without any information on his whereabouts.

Following the defence minister disappearance, Chinese President Xi Jinping last Saturday spoke about maintaining a “high level of integrity and unity of the armed forces, and ensuring the military stays stable and secure.”

ALSO READ | The Mysterious Disappearance of China’s Foreign Minister and Why it is Worrying

There has been a string of surprise after President Xi Jinping’s third term in office including Qin Gang’s replacement and the firing of a senior official from the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force.

All About Defence Minister Li Shangfu

Li Shangfu became the Chinese Defence Minister in March this year and has been under US sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter.

Li Shangfu joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in August 1982 and holds a Doctor of Engineering degree. He is also a member of the party’s current Central Committee, a grouping of the top leaders.

According to Bloomberg, the defence minister made his last public appearance on August 29, when he delivered a keynote speech at the 3rd China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing. A US government official suggested that Li’s absence might be due to corruption.

Reports of Shangfu become public when Rahm Emanuel, the US Ambassador in Japan, posted about the disappearance last week.

“President Xi’s cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. 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? #MysteryInBeijingBuilding,” he posted on X on September 8.

Who is Qin Gang?

Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang went missing from public view for over a month and was later removed from office in less than a year on the job in July. Qin has not been seen in public since June 25, when he met Russian deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing.

Qin, considered close to President Xi, was appointed foreign minister in December 2022. The 57-year-old spent several years at the Chinese embassy in London and is a fluent English speaker.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defence Minister Li Shangfu (Right) have gone missing in the past few months. (Credits: AFP)

Qin earned a reputation as a “Wolf Warrior”, a nickname given to a new generation of Chinese diplomats who push back with often inflammatory rhetoric against Western criticism of Beijing.

There was no reason given for his removal amid rumours that the diplomat had alleged affair with a prominent television anchor, which landed him in hot water. While China’s foreign ministry said “health reasons” were to blame for Qin’s absence, a spokeswoman later deflected further questions about the missing diplomat.

Why Senior Officials Disappear in China?

In July, Xi Jinping promoted two rocket force commanders, in charge of the PLA’s land-based nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles. However, there was no mention of the previous commanders- General Liu Guangbin and General Li Yuchano.

As per reports, the forced removal was part of a new anti-corruption drive, which has followed Xi Jinping’s confirmation as the Party President for a third term. Ever since he first became the President in 2013, Jinping had purged senior officials under charges of corruption.

Moreover, it’s not uncommon for high-profile figures in the country to disappear for long periods of time without much explanation.

Hu Jintao, the former General Secretary of China’s Communist Party also disappeared from public view after the 20th party Congress last year. He was not seen at public events for few months, but later reappeared at the funeral procession of his predecessor Jiang Zemin.

Xi Jinping had also vanished from public view for a fortnight before becoming Chinese President in 2012, prompting rumours about his health and possible power struggles in the Communist Party.

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