Li was last seen in Beijing in late August, delivering a keynote speech at a security forum with African countries.

China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.

Britain’s Financial Times newspaper reported Friday that the United States believed the 65-year-old Li had been removed from office and was under investigation by Chinese authorities.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency reported that Li withdrew from a meeting with Vietnamese defense officials a week ago.

The speculation about Li’s whereabouts follows Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s sudden disappearance from public view in July. It was later announced that he had been removed from his post.

Here’s what we know so far:

Who is Li Shangfu?

  • Li Shangfu was born in February 1958, the son of a senior People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commander who survived the Long March and later fought in the Korean War.
  • According to Chinese media, he graduated from the People’s Liberation Army National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in 1982 and later received a master’s degree in engineering. He served at the military’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center for more than 30 years.
  • In 2016, Li was appointed deputy commander of the military’s then-new Strategic Support Force – an elite unit tasked with accelerating the development of space and cyber warfare capabilities. The following year he was appointed head of the military’s procurement unit.
  • Li is considered fiercely loyal to President Xi Jinping and became defense minister in March.
  • Although he is a general, the position itself primarily involves defense diplomacy, and Li’s participation in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June was closely watched.

In one of his final public appearances, Li, far right, was pictured meeting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, far left, in Belarus [File: Belarusian Presidential Press Office via AP Photo]

  • Li is one of five state councilors, a Chinese cabinet post with seniority greater than that of a regular minister.
  • Washington imposed sanctions on Li in 2018 over his purchase of weapons from Russia’s largest arms exporter, Rosoboronexport. He has refused to hold meetings with U.S. officials until sanctions are lifted, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s attempt to hold talks during the event in Singapore ended in a handshake.

When was Li last seen?

  • Li attended a security conference near the Russian capital Moscow on August 15.
  • Two days later, the government of neighboring Belarus released photos showing Li meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
  • On August 29, Li delivered a keynote speech at the Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.

What fuels speculation about his fate?

  • The leadership of China’s Missile Force, the army unit that oversees its nuclear arsenal, was replaced in July. His former commander, Li Yuchao, had not been seen in public for weeks before the move and Xinhua, China’s official media agency, gave no explanation for his removal.
  • Foreign Minister Qin also disappeared from public view in July before his replacement was announced. No explanation was given for his departure after just seven months in office.
  • Speculation over Li’s fate has increased after China’s annual defense cooperation meeting with Vietnam, scheduled for Sept. 7-8, was postponed. The Reuters news agency reported, citing two Vietnamese officials who declined to be named, said Beijing had told Hanoi days before the event that the minister had a “health condition.”
  • Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, wondered in a post on September 8th
  • On Friday morning, Emanuel took to social media again to note that Li had “not been seen or heard from in three weeks” and that he may have been placed under house arrest.
  • China said little. When asked about Emanuel’s original post, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters she was “not aware of the situation.”

Source : www.aljazeera.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *