BEIJING — China removed its defence minister on Tuesday (Oct 24), the second ousting of a senior leader in three months, raising questions about the stability of the leadership team around Chinese President Xi Jinping.
General Li Shangfu, who has been absent from public view for two months, was dismissed as defence minister and state councillor, according to state media.
China also announced that Mr Qin Gang, who was removed as foreign minister in July, was stripped of his state councillor position.
China’s top legislators, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, approved the removal of both men, state broadcaster CCTV reported, without giving any explanation.
No replacement for Mr Li was named, leaving the country without a defence minister as it prepares to host foreign defence officials at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Oct 29-31.
Mr Li, 65, was last seen in public on Aug 29. Reuters reported last month that he was under investigation for suspected corruption related to equipment procurement and development.
He had only been in the job since March, when Mr Xi started his precedent-breaking third term as head of state. Mr Li, who is under United States sanctions over Beijing’s purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia, is China’s shortest-serving defence minister.
Mr Qin had also served less than a year before he disappeared from public view and was replaced by his predecessor, Mr Wang Yi. No formal explanation has been given but the Wall Street Journal cited sources saying Mr Qin had an extramarital affair while he was ambassador to the US.
The disappearances of Mr Li and Mr Qin have raised questions from diplomats about the abrupt changes in China’s leadership at a time when the country’s economic growth is sluggish and its relations with the US have soured over a range of issues.
Both Mr Li and Mr Qin were seen by observers of Chinese politics as handpicked by Mr Xi, making their absence after less than a year on the job particularly notable. The two men had prominent public-facing roles and also served among China’s five state councillors, a post outranking a regular minister. REUTERS