Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu mysteriously missed a key meeting attended by President Xi Jinping, bolstering reports he’s being investigated for corruption and has been removed from his role.
Li, who also holds the title of state councilor, wasn’t among the participants of a Politburo study session on Wednesday, according to video footage of the gathering on state broadcaster CCTV.
While China’s five state councilors don’t always attend the typically monthly sessions of the Communist Party’s top-decision making body, three other officials in that role were present. Li attended a similar meeting on June 30.
Qin Gang, who has kept his state councilor status after being removed as foreign minister in July without explanation, was also absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
State councilors rank just below vice premier in China’s political system, and do not automatically hold a seat on the Politburo.
Li’s absence marked the first time he’s missed an event he was expected to attend since US officials earlier this month said they had intelligence indicating he’d been removed from his post. China hasn’t commented on the former aerospace engineer’s status, but authorities are probing the military equipment procurement department for a date range overlapping with Li’s tenure as its head.
The defense chief hasn’t been seen in public since August 29, adding to signs of turbulence in Xi’s government less than a year into his third term. That’s been a concern for investors already worried about China’s economic slowdown, volatile relationship with the US and a growing government focus on national security.
As defense minister, Li’s job involves liaising with foreign militaries. The 65-year-old was sanctioned by Washington in 2018 for allegedly aiding the transfer of Russian weapons to China. Those sanctions have prevented Li from meeting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, with China making their removal a condition for any such exchange.
Li’s disappearance and Qin’s ouster—along with the replacement of the two most senior leaders in the People’s Liberation Army’s Rocket Force overseeing China’s nuclear arsenal—have been fodder for Xi’s critics.
“President Xi’s cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None,” the US ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. Bloomberg News
Image credits: Bloomberg