Crackdown on military in China points to ‘harsh politics’ under Xi’s authoritarian rule


BEIJING: A dinner reception last week to commemorate the establishment of modern China saw several important military personnel missing in attendance, pointing towards an ongoing military crackdown in China, which has left Beijing’s political circles wondering about President Xi Jinping’s objectives.

The report in the Japanese daily by Katsuji Nakazawa, a Tokyo-based senior staff and editorial writer said that Li Shangfu, 65, the state councillor and minister of national defence, was one of the most noteworthy absences.

Li hadn’t been seen in days. On the evening of September 28, when they watched the broadcast reception at the banquet chamber of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Chinese audience was made aware of his fall from favour.

The night was meant to celebrate the 74th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. It was also the eve of the start of the National Day holidays and the eve of the Moon Festival, or the Mid-Autumn Festival, when families gather to celebrate under the elegance of the full moon. But the atmosphere hovering over Beijing’s political class was far from elegant, Nakazawa writes.

The Chang’e moon exploration project, named after the Chinese moon goddess, was launched by China under the direction of eminent military leader Li Shangfu. The general’s absence on the eve of the Moon Festival, when he was so closely associated with the moon thanks to one of his most important missions, is indicative of how brutal China’s politics have become.
Li was really too senior to serve as the nation’s defence minister, but Xi gave the nod out of respect for Zhang. Li was thus named as state councillor and defence chief in March. Another is that Li was in charge of procuring Russian high-performance missile systems and fighter planes. As a result, he has received sanctions from the United States for allegedly breaking prior sanctions on Russia. There is speculation among Chinese political circles that by harshly punishing Li, Xi was conveying a message: Zhang, a fellow second-generation red who was viewed as Xi’s buddy, is at least partly responsible, Katsuji Nakazawa opined.

Zhang appears to be safe for now; his presence at the banquet has been confirmed, according to Nikkei Asia.

The massive purging now underway represents a significant shift in dynamics. The fact that the military equipment procurement division was hit first is no coincidence. Zhang, Li’s predecessor, is not the subject of the inquiry; only Li is, according to Nakazawa’s analysis in Nikkei Asia.

Former members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, have not been invited lately with the exception of milestone dinners like the one hosted to commemorate the People’s Republic of China’s 70th anniversary, he added.

The same is true for Xi’s close advisors. The event was also missed by Li Zhanshu, a 73-year-old former chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Chi however did. Chi, who is 94 years old, is still active and was moving about on her own. Because of the military’s considerable political influence over Xi, he was invited. Former defence ministers were traditionally invited to the banquet, but this year there was an odd omission. Wei Fenghe and the current minister Li Shangfu were also absent.

Many people around Xi are yet to hear any official explanation for the recent absences, resignations, and silence on important problems. They were anxious to deduce the intentions of the top leader at the dinner by observing those who were present, attempting to read their facial expressions, and identifying those who were not.


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