China on Tuesday removed defence minister Li Shangfu and ousted former foreign minister Qin Gang from its cabinet, state media reported, as part of a major reshuffle of its top leadership.
The news comes after months of speculation about China‘s cabinet, after Qin was abruptly removed from office without explanation in July, and with Li not having been seen in public for months.
Both Qin and Li are believed by experts to have been personally selected for their roles by President Xi Jinping.
On Tuesday state broadcaster CCTV announced the removals in its regular evening bulletin, but did not give reasons for the ministers’ fall from grace.
No replacement for Li as defence minister was announced.
Previously it had been reported that the US government believed Li was under investigation and had been stripped of his ministerial duties, but China had refused to comment on the matter.
Li travelled to Russia in August to attend a security conference near Moscow on August 15. Two days later, the government of Belarus released handout photographs of Li meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
But since then, he has vanished from public view.
Li’s now confirmed removal means there is no apparent host for China’s regional security dialogue, the Xiangshan Forum, which takes place next week.
The US Department of Defense is due to send a delegation to the event.
Qin off State Council
As well as being removed as defence minister, Li has also lost his position on the State Council, China’s cabinet.
Former foreign minister Qin, who was removed from his post without explanation in July, has now also been stripped of his State Council position.
Qin was removed from office by Beijing’s top lawmaking body after just 207 days in the job, following weeks of speculation that he had fallen out of favour.
He was replaced by Wang Yi, a veteran diplomat who served as foreign minister before Qin and who outranked him in the Chinese government hierarchy.
Beijing has offered no explanation for Qin’s dismissal.
The downfall of Qin and Li “is not flattering for (Xi’s) leadership because the removals suggest he picked the wrong guys”, Yun Sun, senior fellow and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, told AFP.
“But at the same time, his willingness to correct course despite the optics suggest he is confident that such decisions do not have major repercussions,” Sun said, adding that she believed “Xi’s control and power are unparalleled”.
Any possible investigation into Li is “likely to continue for a while and we will not know the true reason for a long time,” Sun said.
That opacity was also evident when China announced recently a new leadership for its Rocket Force, the army unit that oversees its nuclear arsenal, as media reported a corruption probe involving its former chief.
The navy’s former deputy commander Wang Houbin was named as the new commander of the force in a brief article by state news agency Xinhua reporting his promotion to the rank of general.
His predecessor, Li Yuchao, had not been seen in public for weeks and the Xinhua article gave no explanation for his removal.
CCTV also announced Tuesday that science and technology minister Wang Zhigang and finance minister Liu Kun had also been removed from their posts.
They will be replaced by current Ministry of Science and Technology party secretary Yin Hejun and finance ministry party secretary Lan Fo’an respectively.
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