China replaces defence minister not seen in public for two months


China has removed its defence minister, the second ousting of a senior leader in three months, raising questions about the stability of the leadership team around Chinese President Xi Jinping.

General Li Shangfu, who has been absent from public view for two months, was dismissed as defence minister and state councillor on Tuesday, according to state media.

China also announced that Qin Gang, 57, who was removed as foreign minister in July, was also stripped of his state councillor position.

China’s top legislators, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, approved the removal of both men, state broadcaster CCTV reported, without giving any explanation.

Wang Yi, a veteran diplomat, was announced as the replacement for Qin and took over as foreign minister in July.

But Li, 65, who became defence minister during the March cabinet reshuffle, has yet to be seen since giving a speech on August 29.

The former minister is currently under United States sanctions related to his position overseeing weapons purchases from Russia that ban him from entering the country. China has not acknowledged the US sanctions.

China has since cut off contact with the US military, mainly in protest over US arms sales to Taiwan.

While there is no sign that the disappearances of Qin and Li mark a change in China’s foreign or defence policies, they have raised questions about President Xi’s circle of power.

Xi is known to value loyalty above all and has promised to remove all forms of corruption in public and private spheres, including what has been seen sometimes as a method of eliminating political rivals and bolstering his political position amid economic problems and rising tensions with the US.

But the announcement from CCTV about the future of Li and Qin assured the end of their political careers after being removed from China’s cabinet and the centre of government power.

It remains unclear if the two men will face prosecution or other legal sanctions.

Due to China’s opaque political and legal systems and the lack of information related to the removal of the two former officials, some question whether it was due to corruption or disputes with influential figures.

Last year, former Industry Minister Xiao Yaqing vanished from public view for nearly a month before it was revealed he was being investigated for corruption.__Al Jazeera