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China’s defense minister missing amid growing speculation

Beijing, 16 September, 2023 (GNP): China’s Defense Minister, Li Shangfu disappeared from the public view over three weeks ago, sparking speculations about his whereabouts.

He was last seen when he delivered a keynote speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing on August 29. He traveled to Russia and Belarus in mid-August. In Moscow, he met with Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu and praised the strong military cooperation between China and Russia.

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In Minsk, he held a meeting with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Li’s disappearance, along with recent abrupt purges of high-ranking officials, indicates President Xi Jinping’s intent to bolster his control over China’s military, according to analysts.

On Friday, reports indicated that Li is facing a corruption investigation, and it is highly probable that he will be relieved of his position. These reports, citing two unnamed American officials, have raised questions about Li’s conduct.

Beijing has opted not to provide any answers regarding Li’s current whereabouts or the status of the investigation. During the daily press briefing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated that she had no information regarding Li’s case when questioned. Notably, the Foreign Ministry’s daily press briefings from Friday made no mention of Li’s situation.

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Li’s absence was also noted in the diplomatic circles. On Friday, 15 September 2023, US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel wrote on X that Li hadn’t been seen in public for three weeks.

Li has served as the head of the CMC’s Equipment Development Department, responsible for weapon procurement, for a five-year period starting in 2017. During this time, the United States imposed sanctions on Li in 2018 because of China’s acquisition of Russian weaponry. Subsequently, Li received a promotion to the position of defense minister.

In late July, the Equipment Development Department issued a notice asking the public to report corrupt procurement practices dating back to 2017. This period aligns with Li’s tenure as the procurement head.