China removes defence minister not seen in public for two months | Politics News

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In July, Foreign Minister Qin Gang was also removed from his position without explanation.

China has announced the official removal of defence minister Li Shangfu, who has not been seen in public since late August.

State media said President Xi Jinping signed a presidential decree for the dismissal of 65-year-old Li from his post as defence minister on Tuesday. He also lost his job as a state councilor and as a member of Central Military Commission.

Qin Gang, 57, who was removed as foreign minister in July, was also stripped of his position as state councilor. There are five state councilors in the Chinese cabinet and the position is more senior than a regular minister.

China’s top legislators, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, approved the removal of both men, state broadcaster CCTV reported, without giving any explanation on the reasons.

Wang Yi, a veteran diplomat, was announced as the replacement for Qin and took over as foreign minister in July.

No replacement has been named for Li, who became defence minister in March and was seen as a Xi loyalist, has not been seen since giving a speech in Beijing on August 29.

The United States imposed sanctions on the former minister in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia, including Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.

Li had rebuffed contact with the US military, and the state-run Global Times reported on Tuesday that the sanctions “became a trouble to China-US military exchanges”.

Qin Gang
China’s former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, in Beijing in March 2023. He was replaced in July [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

While there is no sign that the disappearances of Qin and Li mark a change in China’s foreign or defence policies, their departures have raised questions about President Xi’s circle of power.

Xi is known to value loyalty above all and has promised to remove all forms of corruption in public and private spheres, in a policy that has sometimes been seen as a method for eliminating political rivals and bolstering his political position, amid economic problems and rising tensions with the US.

It remains unclear if Li and Qin will face prosecution or other legal sanctions.

Due to China’s opaque political and legal systems and the lack of information related to the removal of the two former officials, some question whether it was due to corruption or disputes with influential figures.

Last year, former Industry Minister Xiao Yaqing vanished from public view for nearly a month before it was revealed he was being investigated for corruption.

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