China announced that Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu is being replaced, state media reported Tuesday, as speculation swirls over the official’s apparent disappearance from the public eye almost two months ago.
State broadcaster CCTV said that Li had been removed from the State Council, China’s Cabinet and the center of government power. No further information was given.
Li, who was appointed as defense minister in March under President Xi Jinping, has not publicly appeared since Aug. 29 when he delivered an address at the China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing.
Li is the second senior Chinese official to disappear this year, following former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was removed from office in July with no explanation offered.
International officials and analysts are speculating whether the apparent disappearances are related to Xi’s ongoing efforts to reform the Chinese Communist Party to bolster his personal powers and address corruption.
Along with dealing with what appear to be internal political issues, the ruling party is struggling to revive an economy that has been severely impacted by the draconian “zero-COVID” measures, an aging population, high unemployment among college graduates and a movement of many of its wealthiest and best educated to more liberal societies abroad.
Li is under U.S. sanctions related to his overseeing weapon purchases from Russia that bar him from entering the country.
The State Department said that Li was involved in purchasing Su-35 combat aircraft and materials for S-400 surface-to-air missiles from a sanctioned Russian company.
China has since cut off contacts with the U.S. military, mainly in protest over U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, but also strongly implying that Washington must lift the measures against Li, which Beijing refuses to publicly recognize.
Fox News’ Timothy H.J. Nerozzi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.