Chinese Defence Minister under investigation for illegal appropriation

Chinese Defence Minister under investigation for illegal appropriation

Chinese authorities have initiated an investigation into Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who had been absent from public view for over two weeks, according to information from ten individuals familiar with the situation.

The inquiry revolves around Li's involvement in military equipment procurement, though specifics regarding which equipment purchases are under scrutiny remain undisclosed. Notably, eight senior officials from the Chinese military's procurement unit, which Li headed from 2017 to 2022, are also subjects of investigation.

The probe into Li and the eight officials is being carried out by the military's influential disciplinary inspection commission. These developments were revealed through Reuters' comprehensive analysis, which included insights from sources closely connected to senior Chinese political and defense leaders and regional experts with in-depth knowledge of Chinese politics. Chinese authorities have not officially commented on the situation, with both the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry remaining silent.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials, as reported by The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, believe that Li is under investigation for corruption, though the U.S. State Department has yet to respond to these reports. Li Shangfu was last publicly seen in Beijing on August 29, delivering a keynote speech at a security forum involving African nations.

However, shortly after his return from an overseas trip that included visits to Russia and Belarus, the investigation into him commenced. This led to the abrupt cancellation of his planned visit to Vietnam for an annual defense meeting between the two countries, citing a "health condition" as the reason.

These developments are reminiscent of China's recent changes in leadership, including the unexplained replacement of Foreign Minister Qin Gang and a reshuffling of the leadership within the People's Liberation Army's Rocket Force. Such moves have raised questions about the stability of China's leadership at a time when its economy faces challenges and relations with the United States have soured on various fronts.

Li and Qin were considered handpicked by President Xi Jinping, making their sudden absences, less than a year into their roles, particularly noteworthy. Both held prominent public-facing positions and served among China's five state councillors, a rank higher than that of a regular minister.

Notably, the military's procurement unit had issued an unusual notice in July, signaling its intent to "clean up" the bidding process and inviting the public to report irregularities dating back to Li's tenure at its helm, which lasted until October 2022. In 2018, Li Shangfu faced sanctions from the U.S. for weapons purchases from Russia's leading arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

China has repeatedly expressed its desire for these sanctions to be lifted to facilitate improved discussions between the Chinese and U.S. militaries, though attempts to engage in talks with Li during a defense conference in Singapore earlier in the year yielded minimal progress.