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Chinese defense minister under inquiry


Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is under investigation for corruption and likely will be removed, two U.S. officials said this week, in what would be the latest in a series of top-tier purges of Beijing's security ranks.

The expected purge of Li, who has been noticeably absent from public view for the past two weeks, in the wake of other dismissals will heighten a sense of uncertainty over how China's day-to-day foreign policy is being managed.

It will also further call into question President Xi Jinping's leadership as he consolidates power, analysts say. They note that the narrowing of his inner circle to yes-men has deprived him of opinions and advice that could avert damaging decisions.

One Chinese official said that Li's dismissal was imminent, but said it was for "health issues," not corruption. Two people involved in the Chinese defense industry, however, said there is broad consensus that Li's absence is related to corruption charges relating to his previous position as head of military procurement.

Li, 65, who was appointed defense minister in March, is one of five state councilors -- high-level officials -- tapped by Xi to form China's leadership cabinet this year.

Li was last seen on Aug. 29, when he gave a keynote address at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing. Earlier last month, he traveled to Belarus and Russia, meeting in Moscow with his counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. He is due to take part in a major international defense and security conference in Beijing next month, the Xiangshan Forum.

Li's apparent cashiering would come months after the purge of China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, and the leadership of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force, its premier military unit in charge of the country's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and conventional missiles.

"These are some of the most important outward-facing positions in China," said one senior U.S. official, who like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Li's absence. Asked about Li on Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said she "didn't know about the situation mentioned."

Beijing has not publicly explained Li's absence, and Chinese military websites still list him as minister of defense. Traditionally, when Chinese officials are ousted for corruption or other disciplinary crimes, Beijing refrains from citing a reason, and confirmation can take months or even years.

When Qin abruptly disappeared from sight in June, Beijing's foreign ministry steadfastly refused to comment, instead scrubbing his existence from its Chinese-language website. Similarly, when Xi this summer purged the top two leaders of the PLA Rocket Force, the only information released by Beijing was an announcement of their replacements.

Since China's 20th Party Congress last October, Xi has consolidated power, elevating a cadre of high-level officials based on their loyalty and closeness to him. The removal of Li on the heels of other officials would "take a huge toll on Xi Jinping's reputation and credibility," said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center.

Print Headline: Chinese defense minister under inquiry


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