When China’s Defense Minister, General Li Shangfu (65 years old), disappeared from the public sphere at the end of August, rumors sparked about a new dismissal in the political elite of the Asian superpower. As usually happens, silence prevailed in Beijing, where they do not usually give explanations for these absences. In addition, there was a lot of commotion because the fall of another minister and several high-ranking military officers in the midst of restructuring the Army was very recent. This Tuesday, the state news agency Xinhua which has officially confirmed the dismissal of Li, who had barely been in office for seven months.
The same sequence has been repeated as when he was fired in July. Qin Gang, the then Foreign Minister. First, the target disappears from focus. Beijing lets all kinds of speculation run wild and, weeks later, confirms the fall. And, as happened in the case of Qin, no one explains the reasons that have pushed President Xi Jinping to get rid of a veteran general who had been appointed Minister of Defense during the last National People’s Assembly (APN), the annual session of the Chinese Parliament.
Only, after the minister’s prolonged absence, were several Chinese officials who privately indicated that behind it there was an ongoing corruption investigation for a plot related to the purchase of military equipment.
The briefcase that Li held, unlike other countries in the West, It has a more diplomatic, ceremonial weight than political decision-making.. In China, it is the powerful Central Military Commission that actually runs military affairs. This body is made up of seven people, among them was the Minister of Defense, below two vice presidents and Xi Jinping in the command ladder. The omnipresent leader is also at the head of this commission as the highest military authority in the country.
But Li was the face of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and held a seat in the State Council, China’s cabinet, like Qin Gang, replaced as foreign minister in July by his predecessor, Wang Yi. The fallen politicians, Li and Qin, were also expelled from the Council on Tuesday, losing a rank higher than that of ministers.