Asia/South Asia
9 months ago

US diplomat questions whether Chinese defence minister under ‘house arrest’

China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu attending the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2 this year –Reuters file photo
China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu attending the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2 this year –Reuters file photo

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The US ambassador to Japan questioned in a social media post on Friday whether China's defence minister had been placed under house arrest, adding to confusion about the state councillor's two week absence from public view.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Rahm Emanuel wrote: "1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn't been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam. Now: He’s absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy because he was placed on house arrest???"

The post was accompanied by the hashtag #MysteryInBeijingBuilding" and also referenced a quote from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

China's foreign and defence ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The US embassy in Tokyo said it did not immediately have further comment, reports Reuters.

Reuters exclusively reported on Thursday that Li had abruptly pulled out of a meeting with Vietnamese defence leaders last week.

He was last seen in Beijing on Aug. 29 delivering a key-note address at a security forum with African nations.

The U.S government believes Li has been placed under investigation, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing three US officials and two people briefed on the intelligence. The report did not state the nature of the investigation.

Reuters could not immediately establish what meeting with Singapore Rahm was referring to in his post.

The Singapore Navy's Rear Admiral Sean Wat was in China from Sept. 4-9 and met the PLA Navy commander Dong Jun and other Navy leaders, Singapore's defence ministry said on its website. The website made no mention of him meeting or being scheduled to meet Li.

Singapore's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hiatus surrounding Li follows China's unexplained replacement of its foreign minister, Qin Gang, in July after a prolonged absence from public view and a shake-up of the leadership of the People's Liberation Army's elite Rocket Force in recent months.

These moves have raised questions from analysts and diplomats about a lack of transparency and unpredictable decision-making in China's leadership.

Li, who was appointed to his post in March, is also one of China's five state councillors, a cabinet position that ranks higher than a regular minister.

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