China's Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 16, 2023. (AP)

China Defense Minister Faces Investigation as Speculation Grows

TAIPEI — Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has disappeared from public view for more than two weeks and his unexplained absence has triggered speculation about his fate.

Analysts say Li’s disappearance, which follows a series of abrupt purges of top-level officials in recent months, reflects Chinese President Xi Jinping’s desire to strengthen his control over China’s military.

“This incident shows the People’s Liberation Army may be in an unstable state and Xi might hope to create a high level of obedience within the military by abruptly replacing top-level officials like Li,” Ying Yu Lin, an expert on Chinese military affairs at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told VOA in a phone interview.

Li, who became China’s defense minister in March, made his last public appearance Aug. 29, when he delivered a keynote speech at the third annual China-Africa Peace and Security Forum.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Li is under investigation for “corruption” and will likely be removed from his post, citing two unnamed American officials. Reuters reported that the investigation is related to the procurement of military equipment without specifying the types of equipment involved in the case.

Beijing has avoided answering questions related to Li’s whereabouts. During the daily press briefing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said she had no information about Li’s case when asked. Friday readouts from the Foreign Ministry’s daily press briefings do not mention Li’s case.

Currently, Li is still listed as China’s defense minister and a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

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