Mint Explainer: Has China's defence minister gone missing too?

China's Defence Minister Li Shangfu. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) (AFP)
China's Defence Minister Li Shangfu. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) (AFP)


  • Reports in the US media say General Li is being investigated for corruption and is set to lose his position

China’s defence minister General Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for some weeks now. Reports in the US media, citing sources in the Chinese leadership, say General Li is being investigated for corruption and is set to lose his position. This comes just months after China’s foreign minister Qin Gang disappeared mysteriously from public view. Mint takes a closer look at the developments. 

Li Shangfu and his role in the Chinese government

A career military officer, Li Shangfu trained as an engineer and joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1982. Prior to his appointment as China’s defence minister in 2023, he served as deputy head of the Strategic Support Force, which focused on building up the country’s space and cyber capabilities. “In that capacity, Li likely played a key role in realigning China’s space and missile research, development, and acquisition (RD&A) processes and standards," writes The Diplomat on General Li. He was also made a member of China’s State Council, an important political position, and serves on the Central Military Commission, which is the country’s top military decision making body. However, Li is not the senior most soldier in the country.

Li Shangfu's whereabouts

According to reports, General Li was last seen in public on August 29. Since then, he has missed key meetings, notably with his counterparts in Vietnam. A subsequent report in the Wall Street Journal citing US officials stated that General Li is being investigated for corruption and is set to lose his job.

Has this happened before?

This comes just months after China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang disappeared in June. Then, as now, the disappearance was explained as a health-related incident. Minister Qin was subsequently stripped of his position as foreign minister although he retains some of his political positions.

Li Shangfu's disappearance and Chinese politics

General Li’s reported disappearance spells further instability for China’s military. In August, President Xi Jinping removed two senior commanders in charge of the PLA’s Rocket Force, which is tasked with managing the country’s missile and nuclear weapons arsenal. However, some experts believe this will not have a broader impact on Chinese politics. “If the removal of the defence minister and the Rocket Force leaders was because of corruption, it indicates that Xi’s vetting process for selecting top officials is deeply flawed and suggests corruption is commonplace within the system despite Xi’s decade-long campaign against it," said Dennis Wilder, a former intelligence official, to the Financial Times.

Catch all the Politics News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.



Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App