China fires defense minister Li Shangfu with no replacement

Li and former foreign minister Qin Gang are removed from official posts after disappearing from public view.
By RFA Mandarin
2023.10.24
China fires defense minister Li Shangfu with no replacement Chinese President Xi Jinping formally removed Defense Minister Li Shangfu [left] and former Foreign Minister Qin Gang [right] from the State Council.
AFP photos

Ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping on Tuesday formally sacked his defense minister, who is reportedly under investigation by the party's disciplinary arm, and ousted former foreign minister Qin Gang from the State Council following his sacking from his ministerial post in July, state media reported.

Xi signed a presidential decree removing Li Shangfu as China’s State Councilor and Minister of National Defense, just seven months after he gave him the job.

The same decree also removed Qin Gang as State Councilor, according to a brief announcement made via state news agency Xinhua.

The Oct. 24 decree gave no reasons for the move, and no replacement for Li, who has been missing from public view since Aug. 29, has yet been named.

Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu takes his oath during a session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing on March 12, 2023. Credit: Andy Wong/AP
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu takes his oath during a session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing on March 12, 2023. Credit: Andy Wong/AP

Reuters reported last month that Li is under investigation by Chinese authorities, in connection with the procurement of military equipment, according to a regional security official and three people in direct contact with the Chinese military, the agency reported on Sept. 14.

"#China apparently now has no Minister of Defence," Oxford University politics professor Patricia M. Thornton posted to her X account. 

"Who will host the Xiangshan Forum next week?" she wrote, in a reference to Beijing's Asia-Pacific peace and security cooperation forum that runs from Oct. 29-31 in the Chinese capital.

Li Shangfu was also removed from his position as a member of the Central Military Commission, Xinhua said, citing a separate decree.

Asia Society politics fellow Neil Thomas said via X: "We don't know for sure yet, but I believe this adds weight to the view they are purged."

Li is the second senior Chinese official to go missing after the recent disappearance of former foreign minister Qin Gang, who is reportedly in hot water over an alleged relationship with U.S.-based Phoenix TV reporter Fu Xiaotian, in June.

The disappearances of Li and Qin from public view came as Xi also removed the commanders of the country's nuclear arsenal from office, prompting U.S.-based former People’s Liberation Army Navy Lt. Col. Yao Cheng to comment that they may have been unwilling to wage war on democratic Taiwan.

In its report on Li's ouster, the nationalist Global Times newspaper focused on Li's former role as director of China's main satellite launch sites in Xichang, and his "major role" in lunar exploration missions.

The paper also noted that Li went on to serve as the deputy commander of the Strategic Support Force of the Chinese People's Liberation Army from its founding in late 2015, before becoming the head of the Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission in 2017.

Logistics, procurement and equipment have been highlighted by defense experts as key elements in any plan to invade Taiwan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang is interviewed by Phoenix TV anchor Fu Xiaotian in March 2022. Credit: Screenshot from YouTube video
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang is interviewed by Phoenix TV anchor Fu Xiaotian in March 2022. Credit: Screenshot from YouTube video

The paper also mentioned the sanctioning of Li and his department by the Trump administration in 2018 for purchasing Russian weapons, including Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

"The sanction later became a trouble to China-US military exchanges when Li became the Chinese defense minister," the paper said.

Before becoming foreign minister, Qin was China’s ambassador to the United States and known as a "wolf warrior" – combative Chinese diplomats who are quick to denounce perceived criticism of China.

A close ally of party leader Xi Jinping, he stepped down in January after being promoted by Xi – which makes his ongoing disappearance and the questions around it extremely politically sensitive.


Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie.

POST A COMMENT

Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.