Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has disappeared from radar since August 29. Appointed to the prestigious Central Military Commission led by Xi Jinping in October 2022, then defense minister in March 2023, Li Shangfu made his last public speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing in August. Nothing since. According to US intelligence, Li Shangfu is under investigation for corruption and has been placed under house arrest. This brutal eviction illustrates the turmoil that the Chinese military and diplomatic elite in Beijing has been experiencing for several months.
Since the start of leader Xi Jinping’s third term in March, several senior Chinese Communist Party officials, supposedly “loyal” servants, have been ousted. This latest twist follows the ouster two months ago of two senior generals in charge of the strategic and nuclear force who oversaw the rapid development of the ballistic missile arsenal and nuclear weapons. The investigation into Li Shangfu also comes after the brutal dismissal, on July 26, of Foreign Minister Qin Gang, considered until now to be one of Xi Jinping’s closest collaborators.
A “deep unease” at the top of the Chinese Communist Party
“When you start getting rid of the closest loyalists that you yourself have chosen, it proves that there is a deep malaise at the highest level of Chinese power” testifies a former European military attaché stationed in Beijing for years . The Chinese authorities first justified the surprise absences of these two political leaders by “health reasons”.
But for many observers, such prolonged absences in China betray more serious procedures, justified by acts of corruption or endangering national security. “If the dismissal of the minister and generals is based on corruption,” analyzes Dennis Wilder, former expert on the People’s Liberation Army at the CIA, quoted by the Financial Times, “this shows that Xi Jinping’s selection process is faulty and proves that corruption has not been eradicated despite the campaigns launched by Xi Jinping. »
As for the head of diplomacy, Qin Gang, former ambassador to the United States (2021-2022) aged 57 and reputed to be close to President Xi Jinping, the official media have given no justification for his dismissal. According to one analyst, the disappearance of any reference on the ministry’s website would seem to indicate that it has fallen out of favor. “People outside the system have no idea what is going on and this episode demonstrates that Chinese politics is becoming increasingly unpredictable and unstable, even if it is calm on the surface,” he told the Agence France-Presse Ho-fung Hung, China specialist at the American Johns Hopkins University.
For Neysun Mahboubi, an American specialist in Chinese law at the University of Pennsylvania, this is a warning to the entire Chinese elite: “China’s senior officials now know that no one is safe, no matter what. regardless of his rank or the support he receives from Xi Jinping. »