Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who had been conspicuously absent from public view for over two weeks, is now the subject of a Chinese investigation, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The investigation is centered on the procurement of military equipment, although specific details regarding the equipment purchases under scrutiny remain undisclosed.
Moreover, eight senior officials from the Chinese military’s procurement unit, which Li had overseen from 2017 to 2022, are also reportedly under investigation.
The probe is being conducted by the military’s disciplinary inspection commission.
These revelations have sparked international interest and concern. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry have yet to comment on the situation, and Li has not been reachable.
Reports from the United States suggest that the U.S. government is aware of Li’s investigation, but there has been no official response from the U.S. State Department.
Ambassador Rahm Emanuel even posed the question of whether Li was under house arrest on social media.
Li’s last public appearance was on August 29 when he delivered a speech at a security forum with African nations in Beijing.
Shortly after returning from a trip to Russia and Belarus, the investigation into him began.
This was followed by the cancellation of a scheduled visit to Vietnam for an annual defense meeting, citing a “health condition.”
Li’s situation mirrors the unexplained replacement of Foreign Minister Qin Gang in July, who was also absent from public view for an extended period.
These abrupt leadership changes have raised questions among observers, particularly given China’s economic struggles and strained relations with the United States.
Li’s absence is significant as he was seen as a prominent figure in Chinese politics, handpicked by President Xi Jinping. He held a public-facing role and was among China’s five state councillors, a high-ranking position.
Furthermore, the Chinese military’s procurement unit had recently announced a bid process cleanup, inviting the public to report irregularities dating back to Li’s leadership tenure. This move may have foreshadowed the ongoing investigation.
Li’s history includes U.S. sanctions in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia, which Beijing has been actively seeking to have lifted to improve military discussions with the United States.
However, attempts to engage in talks during a defense conference in Singapore in June did not progress beyond pleasantries.