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Beijing’s Latest Military Purge and Missing Defence Minister Li Shangfu 

Former Defence Minister Li Shangfu pictured above. (Source – AP)

In the latest restructuring under a new Defence Minister, China has removed nine senior military officials from its Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress. This includes the expulsion of four army generals from the army’s strategic missile unit, marking a significant overhaul.

The announcement, made by the state news agency Xinhua late on Friday, came after a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party. 

No explanation was given for the removal of the officials. 

Their expulsion appears to be a part of a much broader series of reshuffling actions within the military hierarchy since the disappearance of Defence Minister Li Shangfu in October, ending months of speculation on his whereabouts. 

Li, who assumed office in March, was last seen in public on 29 August 2023 as his ministry abruptly cancelled a visit to Vietnam planned for September citing ‘health conditions. Two months later, Li was officially removed from his post in October. Dong Jun was appointed as Li Shangfu’s replacement on Friday, culminating a 4 month-long vacancy in the post.

Dong Jun, formerly in charge of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, previously served as the vice commander of the Southern Theatre Command, which is responsible for patrolling the disputed South China Seaan area of contention between China, Taiwan and the West.

Dong Jun’s appointment is the latest development in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s purge of key positions within the country’s highly secretive political framework.

China’s Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, was also fired in July a month after going missing and just six months into his tenure. Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat and Politburo member, assumed his position in July, and all references to Qin were quickly removed from the foreign ministry’s website hours after the reshuffle.

In addition to these changes, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress announced on Friday that Minister of Civil Affairs Tang Dengjie had been relocated, with Lu Zhiyuan taking his place, as reported by Chinese state media. Minister of Culture and Tourism Hu Heping was similarly replaced by Sun Yeli.

We have also seen recently a significant overhaul in the leadership of China’s secretive Rocket Force, that oversees Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, following media reports of a corruption probe involving its former chief.

Experts are saying their dismissal suggests that those officers are being probed and confirms some of the rumours circulating on the topic. 

Isabella Egerton is a leading intelligence specialist and investigator focused on state led level security investigations. She has a proven track record in running complex multi-jurisdictional intelligence projects around the globe.