China expels ousted defense chiefs in corruption crackdown

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China expelled two former defense ministers from the ruling Communist Party over alleged corruption Thursday, the latest sign of a secretive crackdown sweeping the country’s elite.

The moves against Li Shangfu and his predecessor, Wei Fenghe, follow a series of shake-ups at the top of the world’s largest military — Li was ousted from the role last year after disappearing without explanation. The apparent purge comes as Beijing clashes with the United States over the fate of Taiwan, and as the increasingly powerful President Xi Jinping consolidates his leadership.

The two former defense ministers, Li and Wei, were expelled by the party’s leadership for “serious violation of party discipline and the law,” Chinese state news agencies announced early Thursday.

Both men were deprived of their qualifications as delegates to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), state media said, citing a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee.

The Xinhua news agency said the party’s disciplinary and supervisory agency launched an investigation into Li last August that found he had “seriously violated political and organizational discipline.”

“He sought improper benefits in personnel arrangements for himself and others, took advantage of his posts to seek benefits for others, and accepted a huge amount of money and valuables in return. He is suspected of the crime of taking bribes,” it said.

Li, who became defense secretary last March as Xi began an unprecedented third term in office, disappeared from public view at the end of August.

His abrupt removal as defense minister was then announced last October, several months after his absence sparked widespread speculation about his fate. Li was also stripped of his title as state councilor at the time, a rare move — officials from the inner circle of the ruling Communist Party are seldom axed.

Wei, who preceded Li as defense minister, was similarly accused Thursday of “accepting money and gifts in violation of relevant rules.”

Earlier this month, Xi said there were “deep-seated problems” in the Chinese military’s politics, ideology, work style and discipline, as he continues his yearslong anti-corruption crackdown, including in the highest echelons of his own party.

“There must be no hiding place for corrupt elements in the army,” Xi was quoted as saying by the state-run CCTV.

Last August, Xi replaced two generals overseeing the country’s nuclear and missile arsenal. And in December, China’s top lawmakers ousted nine senior military officers from the national legislative body.

Pompeo And Mattis News Conference During U.S.-China Diplomatic And Security Dialogue
Wei Fenghe in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

As high-ranking officials of the party and the military, both Li and Wei’s actions are “extremely serious in nature, with a highly detrimental impact and tremendous harm,” state media said.

Both cases have been sent to “prosecutorial organs of the military for examination and prosecution,” state media reported.

Little is known about their whereabouts or their responses to the bribery allegations.

Li’s was not the only mysterious disappearance of a high-profile minister last year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang — a former ambassador to the U.S. who was once seen as a fast-rising protégé of Xi — was removed from his post last July after disappearing from public view for a month. Like Li, Qin was also stripped of his title as a state councilor in October.

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