US suspects China’s defence chief Li Shangfu under probe by Beijing: Report

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is believed to be under investigation and has been removed from his responsibilities, raising questions about possible instability within Beijing's leadership.

Agencies
Published15 Sep 2023, 01:55 PM IST
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, April 16, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, April 16, 2023. Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo(via REUTERS)

The US government believes that China's Defense Minister Li Shangfu is under investigation by Beijing and has subsequently been removed from his responsibilities, as reported by The Financial Times citing American officials.

The report came shortly before high-ranking diplomat Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, stated on social media that Li "hasn't been seen or heard from in 3 weeks," and that the minister might have been placed under house arrest, as reported by AFP.

These recent events contribute to the mounting signs of possible instability within the Beijing leadership. In July, the unexplained disappearance and subsequent removal of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang raised questions.

AFP noted, China underwent a leadership transition within its Rocket Force, the division responsible for managing its nuclear weaponry, within the same month. The former commander, Li Yuchao, had been absent from public view for an extended period leading up to his removal, and official explanations for his dismissal were notably absent.

Also Read: China’s defence minister Li Shangfu to visit India for SCO meet

Before his removal from office, the former commander Li Yuchao had not made public appearances for a substantial period, spanning several weeks. Interestingly, the official media outlet Xinhua did not offer any official explanation for his dismissal.

The Times reported that three US officials as well as two people briefed on intelligence said the United States determined Li Shangfu had been stripped of his duties as minister.

The basis on which President Joe Biden's administration reached the conclusion that Li was the subject of an investigation remains unclear. The White House has not made any public statements regarding this issue.

In August, Li traveled to Russia and participated in a security conference near Moscow on August 15. Just two days later, the Belarusian government released official photographs of Li meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.

Also Read: India, China agree to 'speed up' resolution of Ladakh standoff: Chinese Defence Ministry

Li has made it clear that he will not engage in meetings with US counterparts until Washington lifts the sanctions imposed on him by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. These sanctions were imposed due to Li's involvement in the procurement of Russian military technology.

The recent disappearance of a high-ranking Chinese official from the public eye, a pattern that has occurred before, prompted Ambassador Emanuel, who has been vocal in his criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping, to add to the speculation about this matter on September 7 and then once more a week later.

"President Xi's cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None. First, Foreign Minister Qin Gang goes missing, then the Rocket Force commanders go missing, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn't been seen in public for two weeks," Emanuel posted last week on X, the former Twitter, using the hashtag #MysteryInBeijingBuilding.

Also Read: India, China agree to 'speed up' resolution of Ladakh standoff: Chinese Defence Ministry

On Thursday, in another post on his official ambassador account that appeared to openly provoke the Xi government, he questioned whether Beijing authorities have restricted Li's movements.

"1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn't been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam," he wrote.

"Now: He's absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy because he was placed on house arrest???... Might be getting crowded in there."

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff known for his assertive demeanor and confrontational political approach, made these comments. It's worth noting that these remarks come during a period of increased trade and geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing, AFP noted.

(With inputs from AFP)

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First Published:15 Sep 2023, 01:55 PM IST
HomeNewsWorldUS suspects China’s defence chief Li Shangfu under probe by Beijing: Report

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