Chinese authorities have started an inquiry into Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who has been missing from the public eye for more than two weeks, claim ten persons with knowledge of the situation.
A regional security officer and three persons in close contact with the Chinese military claim that the probe into Li has to do with the purchase of military hardware.
According to two of the individuals in close contact with the military, eight top members of the Chinese military’s procurement section, which Li oversaw from 2017 to 2022, are also the subject of an inquiry.
According to the two persons, the military’s potent disciplinary inspection panel is conducting the investigation into Li, who was named defence minister in March, and the eight officials.
The investigation’s timeframe is determined by speaking with people who often communicate with high Chinese political and military figures as well as with regional authorities who have in-depth understanding of Chinese affairs.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday told reporters that she was unaware of the circumstance.
According to US sources quoted in a Friday Financial Times article, the US government thinks Li is the subject of an inquiry. According to a source close to Beijing’s decision-making, who was quoted by The Wall Street Journal, he was taken away last week for questioning.
On X, previously Twitter, US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel asked if Li was under house arrest on Friday.
On August 29, Li gave the keynote address at a security meeting with African countries and was last spotted in Beijing. He also travelled to Belarus and Russia earlier that month.
According to a source in direct communication with the military and two foreign security officials briefed on the situation, the investigation into the minister got underway soon after his return from that trip.
According to a Vietnamese official, on September 3 Li’s ministry had cancelled his trip to Vietnam for the annual military summit between the two nations set for September 7-8. According to two Vietnamese officials, Beijing informed Hanoi officials that Li had a “health condition” when it postponed the event.
Li’s absence from that meeting and conversations with a top Singaporean military officer in China the same week sparked concerns about his whereabouts among regional officials and online users.
The investigation into Li comes after China’s mysterious removal of Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July following a protracted disappearance from the public eye and a reorganisation of the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army’s elite Rocket Force, which is in charge of conventional and nuclear missiles. Qin’s absence was first attributed to health issues, according to Chinese officials.
Some experts and diplomats have expressed concern about China’s sudden leadership transitions at a time when its economy is still trying to recover from stringent economic restrictions and its ties with the United States have become even more strained over a number of topics.
With less than a year on the job, Li and Qin’s absence was particularly remarkable since they were both regarded by watchers of Chinese politics as being personally chosen by President Xi Jinping. The two individuals had prominent positions in front of the public and are also two of China’s five state councillors, a position higher than that of a normal minister.
“We must always blow the horn, investigate every case, punish every instance of corruption and resolutely win the hard and protracted battle against corruption,” the spokesman said.
Li was appointed deputy commander of the military’s then-new Strategic Support Force in 2016, an elite group tasked with speeding the development of weapons for cyber and space warfare. The following year, he was given the responsibility of leading the military’s procurement division.
Due to Li’s procurement of weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s largest arms exporter, the US imposed sanctions on him in 2018.