(CNN) — China’s foreign ministry on Friday deflected questions about the whereabouts of the country’s defense minister amid growing speculation about an investigation facing a newly promoted general.
Li Shangfu, who was appointed defense minister in March, has been out of public view for more than two weeks, fueling rumors about his fate after a series of unexplained actions by unexplained individuals rocked senior ranks of China’s ruling Communist Party. This summer.
Citing US officials, the Financial Times It was reported late Thursday that the U.S. government believed Lee was being investigated. Wall Street Journal Officials took Li in for questioning last week, according to a source close to the decision-making in Beijing. No statement gave details of the reason for the investigation.
Asked about Li’s situation at a press conference on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said: “I don’t know about the situation.”
Questions about Li’s whereabouts faded from public view for a month following the unexplained disappearance of Qin Gang, who was sacked as China’s foreign minister in late July.
Qin, who had been foreign minister for only seven months, retained the position of State Councilor, a senior position in the Chinese cabinet.
On Chinese government and military websites, Li is regularly listed as defense minister, state councilor and member of the party’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).
Li’s disappearance comes weeks after China’s military has been dramatically reorganized. In July, the People’s Liberation Army abruptly replaced two leaders of its Rocket Force, an elite military unit that oversees the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal. The ousted commander has not been seen in public for months.
CNN has reached out to US officials for comment.
Li’s absence was also noted in diplomatic circles. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, Wrote in XThe site, formerly known as Twitter, has not been seen in public for two weeks.
In his post, Emanuel wrote, “President Xi’s Cabinet line-up is now like Agatha Christie’s ‘And There Were None.’ First Foreign Minister Qin Gang disappeared, then army chiefs disappeared from rockets, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu is missing. In public for two weeks,” he wrote in “MysteryInBeijingBuilding.” He wrote with the hashtag.
The successive disappearances of two top ministers have raised questions about President Xi Jinping’s government, making China’s political system even more opaque as it concentrates power and imposes strict party discipline.
“Both the secretary of state and the secretary of defense are outspoken to the international community. They could have been fired without any explanation or consideration for global opinion,” Drew Thompson, a researcher at the Lee School, told CNN this Friday. Kwan Yu of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“This fuels a crisis of confidence in China. It underscores the lack of transparency and complete opacity of decision-making in the country.”
Prior to his promotion to defense minister, Li was head of CMC’s equipment development department for arms procurement for five years beginning in 2017. In that role, Li was sanctioned by the United States in 2018 for China’s purchase of Russian weapons.
In late July, the Department of Equipment Development issued a notification inviting public complaints about corrupt procurement practices dating back to 2017.
Li was last seen in public on August 29 when he delivered a keynote speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.
He last left China in mid-August on a trip to Russia and Belarus. In Moscow, Li met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, and called China-Russia military ties a “model of cooperation.” In Minsk, he met with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
Two weeks away from the public eye is not unprecedented for China’s defense minister, who has fewer public engagements than a foreign minister.
However, this has fueled speculation, especially after Qin disappeared and was fired.
Last week, Li abruptly pulled out of an annual meeting with Vietnam’s defense chiefs on the border between the two countries, Reuters reported, citing Vietnamese officials. The meeting was postponed after Beijing informed Hanoi days earlier that Li had a “health problem”, citing two officials.
Ministry of Defense of Vietnam He said in a press conference Last month, Li led the Chinese delegation attending the 8th Border Security Friendly Exchange on September 7-8. There was no official statement or media report from either side on whether the meeting took place.