The Defence Minster of the Peoples Republic of China, Li Shangfu is reportedly missing for a period of three weeks. The United States of America believes that the 65-year-old defence official has been stripped of his duties and was under investigation by Chinese authorities for a certain, long span of time.
A prominent media agency has reported that Li had pulled out of a meeting with Vietnamese defence officials a week ago. The speculation of his whereabouts and condition and his abrupt disappearance from mainstream Chinese politics is similar to that of former Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang.
Who is Li Shangfu?
Li Shangfu, the Chinese defence minister was born in February 1958 and is the son of a top-ranking military commander of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) who survived the Long March and later fought in the Korean War that happened in the year 1950. According to Chinese media, he graduated from the PLA’s National Institute of Technology in 1982 and gained an engineering degree after his majors.
In 2016, Li was appointed as the deputy commander of China’s Strategic Support Force, which is an elite body tasked with accelerating the development of Cyber and Space Warfare capabilities. The following year he was appointed to head the military’s procurement unit. He was fiercely loyal to Xi Jinping and in March 2023, he became the defence minister of China.
While he is a general, the position itself mainly involves defence diplomacy, and his attendance was closely monitored at the Annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2023. He is also one of the five councillors, a Chinese Cabinet Position which is higher than that of a regular minister in terms of seniority.
Washington imposed sanctions on him in 2018, over buying weapons from Russia’s largest arms exporter Rosoboronexport. He has refused to hold meetings with US officials until the sanctions are lifted and the American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s attempt to hold talks during the event in Singapore got no further than a handshake.
When was Li last seen?
Li attended a security conference near Moscow, the capital city of the Russian Federation on August 15, 2023. Two days later the government of Belarus released photos showing Li in the meeting with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk. He delivered a keynote address at the Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing on August 29, 2023.
Speculation over his fate
The leadership of China’s Rocket Force, the army unit that oversees its nuclear arsenal was replaced in July. Its former commander Li Yuchao had not been seen in public for weeks before the change and Xinhua, China’s official media agency gave no explanation for his removal.
The former foreign minister of China, Qin Gang also disappeared from the public view in July 2023, before it was announced that he had been replaced. No explanation has been given for his departure after just seven months on the job.
The speculation over Li’s fate has increased after China’s annual gathering on defence cooperation with Vietnam was scheduled from September 7 to September 8, 2023, was postponed.
A news agency cited two defence officials who wished to remain anonymous and said that Beijing told Hanoi a few days before the event that the defence minister had a health condition. The Former US Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emmanuel wondered what happened to him and in a post on X (formerly called Twitter) on September 8, 2023, said that the Xi Jinping cabinet is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None.
On September 15, 2023, Emmanuel took to social media and to note that Li had not been seen or heard from in three weeks and that he might have been placed under house arrest. China said little. When asked about Emmanuel’s post, a Chinese spokeswoman told reporters that she was not aware of the situation.