China Removes Defense Minister, the 2nd Minister Ousted in 3 Months

Dorothy Li
By Dorothy Li
October 24, 2023China News
China Removes Defense Minister, the 2nd Minister Ousted in 3 Months
China's Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu delivers a speech during the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 4, 2023. (Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

China removed defense minister Li Shangfu from his position on Oct. 24, the latest sign of the opacity of the regime’s decision-making.

Gen. Li was also dismissed as state councilor, a post outranking a minister, according to a brief statement issued by state media Xinhua.

Gen. Li hasn’t been heard from publicly for nearly two months. His last public appearance was on Aug. 29, when he addressed a security forum and held talks with visiting defense ministers from Ghana, Zambia, and several other African countries.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has announced several abrupt changes to his top leadership in recent months. Mr. Xi removed his handpicked foreign minister, Qin Gang, from the post in July, just seven months after he gave Mr. Qin the job.

On Tuesday, Mr. Qin was also stripped of the title of state, Xinhua reported.

Who is Li Shangfu?

According to state media, Li Shangfu graduated from the National University of Defense Technology.

Gen. Li spent most of his career in China’s satellite programs, working at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province for more than 30 years. In 2007, when Gen. Li served as the director of the center, China successfully carried out its first test of anti-satellite weapons.

In 2016, state media revealed that he had become deputy commander and chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army’s Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), one of the two units formed in 2015 to be at the center of Mr. Xi’s drive to modernize and transform PLA into the word-class armed force by mid-century.

From 2017 to 2022, the military officer served as the director of the Equipment Development Department, a branch responsible for weapons procurement under the Party’s Central Military Commission, a decision-making body headed by Mr. Xi. He was then promoted to the six-member panel at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022 when Mr. Xi installed his protégés and allies into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) top leadership positions.

As of today, the general’s name is still on the U.S. sanction list. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Gen. Li for allegedly purchasing fighter jets and missile equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, in violation of a 2017 sanction law that seeks to punish Russia for interfering in U.S. elections, aggression in eastern Ukraine, and other activities. The sanction, announced in 2018, barred Gen. Li from entering the United States and accessing any properties and assets in the country.

Questions about Xi’s Control

The sudden ousting of Gen. Li and Mr. Qin raised questions about the rule under Mr. Xi.

It’s not uncommon for high-rank military officials to be sacked after an unexplained disappearance. For example, Fang Fenghui, who had been a member of Central Military Commission, the top body overseeing the nation’s armed forces, disappeared from public view before being removed from the People’s Liberation Army’s chief of joint staff position in August 2017 without explanation. The senior general, who had accompanied Mr. Xi to Washington on his first meeting with President Donald Trump in April 2017, was sentenced to life in prison for corruption two years later.

“What stands out is that [Li Shangfu] does not belong to other political factions,” Feng Chongyi, a China study professor at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, told The Epoch Times in September.

Mr. Feng noted that the 65-year-old aerospace engineer was largely viewed as a member of Mr. Xi’s political circle, given that he was appointed as Defense Minister by Mr. Xi himself in March.

In comparison, Mr. Fang was a subordinate of Guo Boxiong, who was once the regime’s highest-ranked military official and known as a key member of the “Jiang faction,” a political faction loyal to former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

His fate was closely watched given that Gen. Li, like Mr. Xi, belongs to a circle known in Chinese as “second generation red,” a term referring to sons or daughters of high-rank Communist Party cadres who helped Mao Zedong seize control of the country in 1949. His father, Li Shaozhu, was a Red Army veteran and a deputy commander of the PLA railway force.

Mr. Xi made several high-profile inspections of military commands in recent months, including the Southern and Eastern Theater Command, and Inner Mongolia military command. On these visits, Mr. Xi repeatedly stressed the need to strengthen military management to ensure the army’s “security and stability.”

The recent trip was on Sept. 8, when Mr. Xi inspected the troops stationed in Heilongjiang, a northern province bordering Russia. In a meeting with military officials, Mr. Xi renewed the call for a “highly centralized and unified” military force to ensure its “security and stability.”

From The Epoch Times