On December 29th, 2023, the National People’s Congress (NPC) named Dong Ju the new defense minister of China. This event comes just two months after the previous defense minister, Li Shangfu, was officially let go of the position with no explanation. Li has not been seen in public or heard from since August 29th of this year.
There have been many personnel changes in China’s military in the last few months. The official Xinhua News Agency recently announced Dong Ju’s new position and also news of nine military figures in the NPC being released. The report that released this information did not provide any information as to why these decisions were made.
Li Shanfu is the second senior Chinese official to quietly disappear this year. The first was Qin Gang, who was China’s foreign minister. Qin was removed from office in July without any clarification as to why. Both Li and Qin were in their respective positions for about seven months. Yet, these disappearances do not indicate that there will be any changes to China’s foreign or defense policies.
President Xi Jinping’s methods to maintain his position as tension rises with foreign countries while the economy is in decline, have been in question. However, these recent actions have raised some questions about his power and resilience. After Li Shanfu was placed under sanctions in the US due to overseeing weapon purchases from Russia in 2018 and former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan in 2022, the relations between the US and China became uncertain. In November 2023, US and Chinese generals broke the year long silence and agreed to open military communications again. Still, the decisions made for some military personnel have not been disclosed.
Officials have deemed these disappearances a purge of highly influential military officials. The reason remains unknown, but some believe corruption or spying is a factor. However, the Chinese government has continued to stay silent on the disappearance and declined to comment on the reasons behind the absences. As of yet, there have been no corruption allegations gainst any military officials.
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