By Yew Lun Tian
BEIJING (Reuters) – China removed its defence minister on Tuesday, 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, according to state media.
China also announced that Qin Gang, who was removed as foreign minister in July, was 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.
No replacement for Li was named, leaving the country without a defence minister as it prepares to host foreign defence officials at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Oct. 29-31.
Li, 65, was last seen in public on Aug. 29. Reuters reported last month that he was under investigation for suspected corruption related to equipment procurement and development.
He had only been in the job since March, when Xi started his precedent-breaking third term as head of state. Li, who is under U.S. sanctions over Beijing’s purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia, is China’s shortest-serving defence minister.
Qin had also served less than a year before he disappeared from public view and was replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi. No formal explanation has been given but the Wall Street Journal cited sources saying Qin had an extramarital affair while he was ambassador to the United States.
The disappearances of Li and Qin have raised questions from diplomats about the abrupt changes in China’s leadership at a time when the country’s economic growth is sluggish and its relations with the United States have soured over a range of issues.
Both Li and Qin were seen by observers of Chinese politics as handpicked by Xi, making their absence after less than a year on the job particularly notable. The two men had prominent public-facing roles and also served among China’s five state councillors, a post outranking a regular minister.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Don Durfee, Mark Potter and Nick Macfie)