First, a remote chancellor. Then, a Minister of Defense disappeared from the public scene. In China intrigues accumulate around the top of power, increasingly opaque under the presidency of Xi Jinping.
There has been no trace of the Minister of Defense for weeks, Li Shangfu, appointed just six months ago. According to the newspaper Financial TimesUS officials believe that he is being investigated and has been relieved of his duties.
Something similar happened in June with Qin Gangso Minister of Foreign Affairs. Appointed in March and considered a close ally of Xi, in late July he was fired without explanation after weeks of absence.
At that same moment, China announced that the former Navy commander, Wang Houbinwas going to take over the unit in charge of the missiles after information from an investigation by corruption.
His predecessor, Li Yuchaohad also vanished weeks earlier, without any reason being leaked in the state media.
“The composition of President Xi’s cabinet now resembles Agatha Christie’s novel ‘And There Were None,’” whose protagonists are murdered one by one on an island from which they cannot escape, the US ambassador to Japan joked in September. Rahm Emanuelon the social network X (formerly Twitter).
“We have not seen or heard of” from Li Shangfu for three weeks, it said on September 8.
For the analyst Sun Yundirector of the China Program of the Stimson Center In Washington, this situation “says a lot about the unpredictability of personal decisions and domestic politics in today’s China.”
Since his rise to the head of the Communist Party in 2012, Xi Jinping He strengthened his control over the government, placing his closest political allies in the most responsible positions.
“If we find out that Li has also been removed, this will not be positive for Xi’s image” because “Qin Gang and Li Shangfu They were the two chosen by him,” estimates Sun Yun.
The fight against corruption It has long been the workhorse of the Chinese president, who as soon as he came to power launched a broad campaign against these bad practices.
Although some praise this effort to clean up Chinese politics, its detractors also see it as an effective means of getting rid of rivals.
“Quickly after coming to power, Xi Jinping launched a purge in the upper echelons of the military and security forces. And this continues today,” says Sheena Chestnut Greitens, an expert on authoritarian politics in East Asia and professor at the University of Texas.
For the Chinese president, corruption constitutes a “fundamental threat” because “it makes people loyal to personal benefits, rather than to the Party.”
If the campaign appears to be aimed at potential competitors, the latest research also affects its closest allies.
“That they are dismissed so quickly (after their appointment) raises questions about the information they do or do not send to Xi when he chooses people” for the ministries and about “what happened for them to be dismissed so quickly,” says Chestnut Greitens. .
The interlocutors of China “They have to ask themselves if the people they are talking to really have power and influence in Beijing, or if they are going to disappear and be untraceable for months,” he adds.
The possible cessation of Li Shangfu and the unexplained departure of the former head of the unit in charge of missiles, Li Yuchao, They point to Xi’s anti-corruption campaign reaching the highest ranks of the chinese army
Lyle Morrisassociate researcher of foreign policy and national security at the Asia Society Policy Institute, believes that the minister’s disappearance shows that the purge in the armed forces is “far from over.”
“He is not some obscure stranger who can be discreetly pushed aside,” he wrote of Li in X.
China He has not confirmed whether any of the three senior officials are being investigated and refuses to answer any questions on the matter.
“I am not aware of what you mention,” said the spokesperson for Chinese diplomacy. Mao Ning when asked on Tuesday about a newspaper article The Wall Street Journal which attributed the dismissal of Qin Gang to an extramarital affair.
The absence of official explanations opens the door to all kinds of speculation and fuels the external view of China as an opaque country.
“This reinforces the feeling of unpredictability of Chinese foreign policy, at a time when the Chinese political system is less transparent and more difficult for foreigners to understand,” notes Sheena Chestnut Greitens.