State broadcaster CCTV reported on Tuesday that Li had been removed, without explanation. It came after weeks of speculation over the fate of the US-sanctioned general, who has not been seen in public since the end of August. The decision to remove him was approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
Li and Qin were also removed as state councillors on Tuesday – a higher ranking than regular ministers. No replacements were named.
Unlike their counterparts in the West, Chinese foreign and defence ministers are chiefly policy enforcers, not the top decision-makers.
Li, 65, was also stripped of his Central Military Commission membership by China’s top legislative body, according to the CCTV report.
The NPC Standing Committee, which wrapped up a bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday, also appointed Liu Shaoyun as president of the Chinese military court after his predecessor, Major General Cheng Dongfang, left the post in September. It is unclear if Liu’s appointment is related to Li’s dismissal.
It is also not clear if Li’s downfall heralds a further shake-up in the military, which is undergoing its most dramatic modernisation in China’s history. Xi has set a target for the PLA to become a world-leading fighting force by 2049, which means reaching parity with the US.
No replacement for Li has been announced.
More to come …