In another mysterious major shake-up at the highest defense and political levels under Xi Jinping, China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu has been fired Tuesday, making him the second high-profile official to be sacked without any official reason offered.
It follows the surprise ouster of Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July, which was also met with intense speculation and rumors of a broader political crackdown toward ensuring total pro-Xi loyalty. In the case of now former defense chief Li Shangfu, he hadn’t been seen public since late August, after only being appointed to the post the prior March.
His removal has already been approved by the rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, state media has confirmed. This further means Li is no longer a member of the powerful Central Military Commission. He has been under US sanctions, which Beijing had long protested and bristled at.
The NY Times has emphasized this adds to the growing rumors that this is all part of an anti-corruption crackdown, also part of stricter controls on national security, and that Li could possibly be facing formal charges:
Just four months ago, China’s defense minister, Gen. Li Shangfu, was at a forum for regional officials in Singapore, serving as the face of his country’s bold vision for reshaping Asia’s balance of power. He cast China as a force for stability and accused the United States of stirring trouble in the region, suggesting that its leaders should “mind your own business.”
Now, General Li has been dismissed after nearly two months out of public view — the latest example of the capriciousness of high-level politics in China under Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader.
The report says the question is open whether or not he’s being investigated for any criminal offenses.
Additionally, NYT notes that “The removal of the defense minister also followed an abrupt shake-up in August in the leadership of China’s nuclear force, the highest-level upheaval in China’s military in recent years.”
As for the fired foreign minister Qin Gang, Western press has dubbed Qin the former “high-flying favorite” of President Xi Jinping, given he had played point man for the early in the summer important visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which was an attempt to rescue spiraling US-China relations. Qin has actually been further demoted as of this week:
CHINA REMOVES QIN GANG FROM POST OF STATE COUNCILOR – STATE MEDIA
China’s ex-foreign minister Qin Gang loses last state title https://t.co/Z9PJEnVULs
— South China Morning Post (@SCMPNews) October 24, 2023
Like the now removed defense minister, Qin’s rise had been rapid and brief. FT had pointed out in July that “Qin had a meteoric rise from his appointment as Chinese ambassador to the US in 2021 to foreign minister and a member of China’s cabinet, the State Council, in March”—but soon after “disappeared” from public view.
One question remains: is there a greater shake-up underway? It seems so, given the emerging pattern of rapid turnover in China’s most powerful and influential positions under Xi. Who is he coming for next?