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China sacks ‘missing’ defense minister

The government official had made no public appearances since late August

The Chinese government has confirmed the dismissal of Defense Minister Li Shangfu, following weeks of speculation about the official’s whereabouts due to his lengthy absence from the public spotlight. 

During a meeting of China’s top legislative body on Tuesday, lawmakers confirmed a number of personnel decisions, including the sacking of Li, who also served as state councilor of China, according to national media. No replacement has yet been named.

Much like Li, former foreign minister Qin Gang was also abruptly replaced earlier this year following a prolonged withdrawal from public appearances. Chinese officials have offered no reasons for the decisions, at times telling reporters the ministers were absent due to health reasons, while insisting that their departments were running normally. 

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In addition to his ouster from the defense portfolio, Li was also removed from Beijing’s Central Military Commission, the ruling body for the People’s Liberation Army, according to local media reports.

Li had a long career in government before he was appointed as defense minister, having spent some three decades working on China’s space program and even leading some moon missions. While heading up a PLA equipment development unit in 2018, he was slapped with US secondary sanctions after helping Beijing purchase Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets, and gear related to the S-400 missile defense platform.

The former defense chief was last seen in public on August 29, and was later reported to be under investigation for corruption by Chinese authorities, according to 10 unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The probe was said to be linked to Li’s time at the equipment unit, and also reportedly targeted eight other senior officials from the same department, the sources said.

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