The Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who hasn’t been spotted in public for more than two weeks, is allegedly under investigation, according to the US government. Shangfu, according to the US, has also lost his position as defence minister, the Financial Times reported.
According to three individuals with firsthand knowledge of the situation, Li Shangfu abruptly left a meeting with Vietnamese defence officials last week, as reported by Reuters. Li, 65, was scheduled to attend a yearly conference on defence cooperation that Vietnam was hosting on its border with China on September 7-8, but the event was postponed when Beijing informed Hanoi days beforehand that the minister had a “health condition,” according to two Vietnamese officials.
Another Chinese Minister vanished mysteriously in July
It is the most recent indication of approaching unrest in Beijing following the mysterious disappearance and subsequent removal from office of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July.
In July, China also changed the head of its Rocket Force, the army division in charge of guarding its nuclear weapons. The previous boss, Li Yuchao, had not been spotted in public for some weeks prior to the move, and the official news agency Xinhua provided no justification for his departure.
According to three US officials and two individuals who were informed on intelligence, Li Shangfu’s ministerial responsibilities have been revoked, according to The Times.
What led President Joe Biden’s administration to believe that Li was under investigation remained unclear. The White House has not made a public statement about the issue.
To attend a security conference close to Moscow on August 15, Li travelled to Russia in August. The handout pictures of Li’s meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk were made public by the Belarusian authorities two days later.
Li has declined to meet with US peers unless Washington relaxes sanctions placed on him in 2018 as a result of his acquisition of Russian military technology. The penalties were put in place by then-president Donald Trump.
American Diplomat fueled the disappearance news
Ambassador Emanuel, who has publicly criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping, fueled rumours regarding the latest apparent removal of a prominent Chinese official from public view on September 7 and again a week later.
“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,” Emanuel wrote last week on X, the former Twitter, with the hashtag #MysteryInBeijingBuilding.
He publicly questioned on Thursday if Li’s travels were controlled by Beijing officials.
“1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam,” he wrote in a post on his official ambassador account.
“Now: He’s absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy because he was placed on house arrest???… Might be getting crowded in there.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Li in 2018 in connection with China’s purchase of Russian weaponry. At the time, Li was in command of the PLA’s primary division for acquiring and manufacturing weapons.
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