China has replaced its Defense Minister, General Li Shangfu, according to state media reported on Tuesday. The minister has not appeared in public for almost two months with little explanation.
Li is the second high-level Chinese official to go missing this year, after former minister Qin Gangdismissed in July without explanation.
Li, who became defense minister in a government reshuffle in March, has not been seen since giving a speech on August 29.
There is no indication that Qin and Li’s demise reflects a shift in Chinese foreign or defense policy, although it has raised questions about the resilience of President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s power circle.
Xi has a reputation for valuing loyalty above all and has openly pursued public and private corruption, a campaign that has sometimes been seen as a method of eliminating political rivals and bolstering his political position, amid an economic decline and rising tensions with the United States over trade, technology and Taiwan.
Li is subject to US sanctions for overseeing Russian arms purchases, preventing him from entering the United States. China has since cut ties with the U.S. military, primarily in protest over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, although Beijing has also strongly hinted that Washington should lift measures against Li, which China does not publicly acknowledge.
The announcement by state television CCTV indicated that both Li and Qin had been removed from the State Council, the name of China’s government and center of power. That all but guarantees the end of their political careers, although it remains unclear whether they will face charges or other legal sanctions.
The Chinese political and legal system remains very opaque, fueling speculation about possible cases of corruption, personal missteps or clashes with other prominent figures as a trigger for the fall from grace of high-ranking officials.