Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, missing for weeks, is being investigated | ET REALITY


Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is under investigation for corruption and will likely be removed, two US officials said this week, in what would be the latest in a series of high-level purges in Beijing’s security ranks.

The expected purge of Li, who has been conspicuously absent from public view for the past two weeks, in the wake of other firings will heighten a sense of uncertainty about how China’s day-to-day foreign policy is being handled.

It will also further call Xi’s leadership into question as he consolidates his power, analysts say. They point out that reducing his inner circle to men who have deprived him of opinions and advice that could prevent harmful decisions.

A Chinese official said Li’s dismissal was imminent, but that it was for “health issues,” not corruption. However, two people involved in the Chinese defense industry said there is broad consensus that Li’s absence is related to corruption charges related to his previous position as head of military procurement.

Li, 65, who was named defense minister in March, is one of five state councilors (high-level officials) chosen by Xi to form China’s leadership cabinet this year.

Li was last seen on August 29, when he gave a keynote speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing. Early last month, he traveled to Belarus and Russia and met in Moscow with his counterpart, Sergey Shoigu. He is scheduled to participate in a major international defense and security conference in Beijing next month, the Xiangshan Forum.

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Li apparent The cashier position would come months after the purge of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.and the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Forceits main military unit in charge of the country’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and conventional missiles.

“These are some of the most important foreign positions in China,” said a senior U.S. official, who like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Li “is under serious investigation and in all likelihood is being removed,” the official said, noting that the purge of Rocket Force leaders also involved allegations of corruption. The Financial Times reported Thursday that U.S. officials believe Li is under investigation.

If Li were fired, he would be the second state councilor removed from a ministerial position in three months.

“It could be even worse than that,” the official said, alluding to the possibility of new purges.

Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, suggested on Friday that Li had been placed under house arrest. “He may be getting crowded there,” he said. wrote in Xformerly known as Twitter.

“As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’” Emanuel wrote.

The Chinese embassy in Washington declined to comment on Li’s absence.

Beijing has not publicly explained Li’s absence, and Chinese military websites still list him as defense minister. Traditionally, when Chinese officials are removed for corruption or other disciplinary offenses, Beijing refrains from citing a reason, and confirmation can take months or even years.

When Qin abruptly disappeared from view in June, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry flatly refused to comment and instead deleted his existence from its Chinese website. Similarly, when Xi purged the two top leaders of the PLA Rocket Force this summer, the only information released by Beijing was the announcement of her replacements.

Since China’s 20th Party Congress last October, Xi has consolidated power, elevating a cadre of high-level officials. based on your loyalty and closeness to him. Li’s removal following that of other officials “would have a huge price on Xi Jinping’s reputation and credibility,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. “It would basically suggest that Xi Jinping’s domestic political position is in doubt.”

The cleanup comes as China’s economy is struggling to recover after a disastrous mass lockdown policy during the Covid-19 pandemic, a property market crash and a growing debt crisis. The tumult of Xi’s domestic problems was likely a factor in his not attending the G-20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi last week, analysts said.

With the firings of top diplomatic and military officials, “there seems to be a lot of turmoil and instability in terms of who represents and speaks for China on the world stage,” said Sheena Chestnut Greitens, director of the Asia Policy Program at the University of Texas. , Austin.

“As China’s entire system becomes increasingly opaque and powers become more personalized under Xi Jinping, it becomes more difficult for external interlocutors to know where China’s foreign policy will go,” Greitens said.

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Dennis Wilder, a former senior China analyst at the CIA, said Xi has created his own dilemma “because he has seized so much power.” Several years ago, Xi abolished term limits, allowing him to serve an unprecedented third term.

“When you close a system to one-man rule like this, you close off discussion and debate within the system, you don’t bring into play other opinions that can lead to better decision-making,” said Wilder, who is now a senior official. . member of Georgetown’s US-China Initiative.

Li’s rise to the position of defense minister followed. several high-profile roles leading China’s military modernization efforts, including serving in 2016 as deputy commander of the PLA’s Strategic Support Force, a unit that oversees advanced warfare technology, including space and cyber operations.

The following year, he was named top military procurement official, heading the PLA’s Equipment Development Department, a powerful unit responsible for weapons purchases.

In recent months, the procurement agency announced that it had launched an investigation into alleged violations during a period that coincided with Li’s tenure as director.

In July, a notice published by the department asked for tips on alleged violations in the procurement process dating back to October 2017. The notice listed eight violations, including “active leaking of secrets,” “unfair handling of matters” and “lack of of supervision.” He requested information about people who had manipulated the bidding process for personal gain.

China’s national strategy to quickly build a military that can compete with the United States has seen billions of dollars flow to public and private contractors, a process that analysts say is easily corrupted.

“The temptations that come with this for the senior officials in charge of these programs are great,” Wilder said.

The alleged corruption calls into question the professionalism and preparedness of the EPL, he said. “We tend to judge the EPL by the equipment they have been buying. But this raises questions about the quality and reliability of the officer corps. Are they working on national defense or lining their pockets?”

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Corruption has long plagued the Chinese military.

In 2012, when Xi took power, he dismissed the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission who were later accused of corruption.

A few years later, former PLA Joint Chiefs of Staff Chief Fang Fenghui was investigated for corruption, and in 2018, Xi fired the Chinese head of Interpol after he reportedly admitted to accepting more than $2 million in bribes. In 2019, Fang was sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges.

In 2018, Li and the Department of Equipment Development were sanctioned by the United States for violating a law that prohibits major transactions with people working on behalf of Russian intelligence or defense agencies. These transactions involved the transfer from Russia to China of Su-35 fighter jets and equipment related to the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The sanctions on Li have caused friction between Beijing and Washington as US officials seek to restart military talks.

Beijing in May rejected a US request Li met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, citing the sanctions. In May, the State Department said it was not considering lifting sanctions on Li. There have been subsequent discussions about revisiting the issue, but there appears to be no desire to do so and, in any case, Li’s ouster would render the issue moot, the officials said.

“The state of affairs is constantly changing day by day,” said a Chinese government adviser in Beijing. The person said there is new scrutiny of the country’s security apparatus, including the military, intelligence agencies and internal security forces.

U.S. officials said Xi’s decade-long campaign to root out corruption is threatened by systemic issues.

“Some of the PLA’s persistent problems may be too big for Xi to solve, and they have a real impact on the PLA’s ability to achieve what he wants,” a second US official said. “We know that corruption in the PLA is deep enough for this to be a factor. And we know that it has had a profound effect on what they are able to do and how they do it.”

This week, China’s president sought to project an image of control. During an inspection of a PLA unit in northeast China, Xi, dressed in a pale green military shirt, gathered officials to “strictly enforce the education and management of troops, and maintain a high degree of centralization.” , unity, security and stability”. ” according to the state news agency Xinhua.

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