Sunday News

Defence minister investigat­ed for corruption


Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu is under investigat­ion for corruption and is likely to be removed, two United States officials say, in what would be the latest in a series of top-tier purges of Beijing's security ranks.

The expected purge of Li, who has been noticeably absent from public view for two weeks, in the wake of other dismissals will heighten a sense of uncertaint­y over how China's day-to-day foreign policy is being managed.

It will also further call into question President Xi Jinping's leadership as he consolidat­es power, analysts say. They note that the narrowing of his inner circle to yes-men has deprived him of opinions and advice that could avert damaging decisions. One Chinese official said Li's dismissal was imminent, but that it was for “health issues”, not corruption.

Two people involved in the Chinese defence industry, however, said there was broad consensus that Li's absence was related to corruption charges relating to his previous position as head of military procuremen­t.

Li, 65, who was appointed in March, is one of five state councillor­s – high-level officials – tapped by Xi to form China's leadership cabinet this year.

He was last seen on August 29, when he gave a keynote address at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.

Li's apparent cashiering would come months after the purge of China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, and the leadership of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force, its premier military unit in charge of the country's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and convention­al missiles. The Rocket Force leadership purge also involved allegation­s of corruption.

Asked about Li, Chinese foreign ministry spokespers­on Mao Ning said she “didn't know about the situation mentioned”.

Beijing has not publicly explained Li's absence, and Chinese military websites still list him as minister of defence. Traditiona­lly, when Chinese officials are ousted for corruption or other disciplina­ry crimes, Beijing refrains from citing a reason, and confirmati­on can take months or even years.

In recent months, the procuremen­t agency announced that it had launched an investigat­ion into alleged violations during a period that coincided with Li's tenure as director.

China's national strategy to rapidly build a military that can compete with the United States has seen billions of dollars flow to public and private contractor­s, a process which analysts say is easily corrupted.

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