Explainer: Curious case of China’s missing defence minister

| Updated: 18 September, 2023 3:44 pm IST
General Li Shangfu was appointed as China's defence minister in March of 2023 under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

China has been gripped by a mystery as its defence minister, General Li Shangfu, has suddenly vanished from public view. This unexplained absence has left many questions unanswered, especially given the backdrop of similar high-profile disappearances within China’s political elite.

Who is General Li Shangfu?

General Li Shangfu was appointed as China’s defence minister in March of 2023 under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. He had a distinguished career in the military, starting as an aerospace engineer and eventually heading the military’s procurement unit. General Li was known for his loyalty to President Xi and held a significant position in China’s leadership hierarchy.

The timeline of disappearance

General Li Shangfu was last seen in public on August 29 when he delivered a keynote speech at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing. His absence was first noted when he canceled a meeting with Vietnamese defence officials. This triggered concerns about his well-being and the reasons behind his disappearance.

Parallel cases of disappearance

General Li’s case is not an isolated incident. Earlier in the year, China’s foreign minister Qin Gang also disappeared from public view in July, prompting speculation about his fate. Qin Gang was subsequently replaced in his role. Moreover, the leadership of China’s Rocket Force, responsible for overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal, underwent a major shakeup with key officials being replaced without official explanations.

READ MORE: Jinping absent from G20, ex-Army chief welcomes Chinese premier

US sanctions and international implications

General Li Shangfu had previously been sanctioned by the United States in 2018 for purchasing Russian weapons while heading China’s military procurement unit. These sanctions remained in place, and General Li had refused to hold meetings with US officials until they were lifted. His disappearance raises questions about the impact of these sanctions and whether they played a role in what could be his abrupt removal.

Xi Jinping’s tightening grip

These disappearances are seen as part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate power within the Chinese Communist Party and the military. Xi has emphasized the need for party discipline and control within the military, potentially leading to these purges. Analysts speculate that Xi’s aim is to ensure his continued personal control, especially in the wake of recent military challenges and geopolitical tensions.


The disappearance of the Chinese defence minister is part of a broader pattern of high-profile officials going missing in China. While the exact reasons for these disappearances remain unclear, they are indicative of power struggles and purges within the Chinese Communist Party and the military.

Also Read Story

Muslims must learn from Hindus to donate organs: MoS Baghel 

MP Elections: BJP fields 3 union ministers, Opposition calls it fear

AIUDF accuses INDIA alliance of Muslim bias, gets ‘BJP’s B Team’ label

Time to convict political conspirators, perpetrators of Sikh, Pandit killings