Before the disappearance of China’s defense minister, General Li Shangfu, several top military officials were axed. This event of removing General Li comes after a similar ignominious ouster of China’s foreign minister Qin Gang.
The Wall Street Journal said Li was removed for charges of corruption. China will not reveal the reasons for removing Gen Li; it did not say why Qing had been relieved.
The speculation of a military corruption purge first made rounds online in early August. Two Generals in China’s rocket forces, which control land-based missiles, were replaced. Interestingly, the army’s military court president was also removed months after his appointment.
Picked Up From A Meeting
A report by Reuters citing Vietnamese officials said that Gen Li had abruptly pulled out of a meeting last week with Vietnamese defense leaders, who were told that the Chinese General had a “health condition.” The “health condition” was also the reason given by the Chinese authorities in the case of the ouster of former foreign minister Qin Gang.
The naval chief of Singapore, Sean Wat, had met with the Chinese military officials last week. The BBC has approached Rahm Emanual, the US Ambassador in Japan, to confirm the tweet of the US Ambassador that the “unemployment rate” in the Chinese government was high. Qin Gang’s sudden disappearance and replacement in July has not been explained.
Has Xi Lost The Trust?
Gen Li started his career as an aerospace engineer at a satellite and rocket launch center in China. He had a smooth ascent through the military and Chinese political elite ranks.
It is said in Chinese political circles that Gen Li, like the ex-foreign minister Qi Gang, was a favorite of President Xi Jinping. He is the second cabinet minister and state councilor, after Qin, to have gone missing in recent months.
The question being hotly discussed in political circles worldwide is why there are sudden disappearances at the highest civilian and military establishment levels.
Generally, commentators want to highlight corruption at higher levels as the cause of disappearances. But considered in an overall assessment of the situation in China, we find that since Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago, he has been focusing on the need to purge and cleanse the administration of endemic corruption.
The question is of having not corruption at such a high level of civil and military administration been controlled for the last ten years or more so that purging needs to be put into practice. That speaks of either the imbecility of the administrative structure or a deep-seated power rivalry within the rank and file of the PLA. Xi is the President of China and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and PLA.
Hindsight shows that things have not been smooth and hassle-free for President Xi after he was declared elected for the third term in office. Reports of disgruntlement of many vital persons in civilian and military cadres in the party and the government had continued to come in.
But strict control over the media, as is accurate about all authoritarian regimes, including China, would not allow the press that freedom. Hence, ideological or otherwise, internal dissensions were not brought to the public domain.
Ambassador Emanual had been tweeting about the disappearance of top Chinese leaders. He compared it to Agatha Christie’s mystery “And Then There Were None” and Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Is President Xi feeling insecure and purging the rank and file? Qin Gang and Gen Li are both said to have won the favor of the President, and both had a meteoric rise as well. Why, then, the sudden fall from favor? According to some observers, the answer to this question is that there is a circle within a circle at the powerhouse of Beijing where a strong group is unwilling to let Xi continue with his authoritarian style of governance.
Nevertheless, Gen Li’s antecedents are not all clean. In 2018, when he headed the equipment development arm of the military, he was sanctioned by the US government over China’s purchases of Russian combat aircraft and weapons.
The sanctions were almost a sticking point for the General, who had refused to meet with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at a Singapore defense summit earlier this year.
If corruption is the real reason for Li’s disappearance, then it also reflects on President Xi because after getting the third term, he had chosen his team to work with. Was his judgment so myopic and faulty?
Analyst Bill Bishop noted that the Chinese military has had a long history of corruption. Gen Li, Qin, and the rocket force leaders were all promoted by Xi, and “more purges will likely be seen as the solution.”
It has to be noted that there are other indicators to tell us that everything is not right with President Xi. The recent curbs imposed on dress and freedom of speech would not happen without a cause. Disappearances occur during heightened military activity near Taiwan and tension in the South China Sea.
Xi’s absence from the G20 summit in Delhi has also dragged to the controversialities about the stability of President Xi and his increased authoritarianism. The recent visit of North Korea’s Kim to Vladivostok and his meeting with President Putin could not have happened without the green signal from Beijing.
What is happening on that front is less known, but there is talk of the supply of arms to strengthen the firepower of Russia in the Ukrainian war.
No doubt, totalitarian states do not go away that easily, and China is a good example. But we have seen with our eyes how a superpower like the Soviet Union collapsed and changed the history of the world.
Is China going to witness the demise of an authoritarian regime and its replacement by a normal, rational, and democratic state that has the potential to lead the world?