The disappearance of China’s defense minister and President Xi Jinping’s focus on internal security over international engagement have caused a series of upheavals in the country’s leadership. This increasing unpredictability has raised concerns among diplomats and analysts about the confidence other countries have in China’s leadership. Defense Minister Li Shangfu has been absent from meetings since late August and is currently under investigation for corruption. In addition, the sudden disappearance of Foreign Minister Qin Gang and the shake-up of the military’s rocket unit have further added to the uncertainty.
China’s top commander has also skipped the Group of 20 summit in India, the first time in his 10-year tenure that he has been absent from a meeting of world leaders. This has raised concerns among diplomats about the nature of the Xi administration. The lack of transparency surrounding these changes has fueled a crisis of trust and led to various plausible explanations being put forth. Some analysts and diplomats believe that Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown is a political purge of the Communist Party as a whole.
The unexpected disruptions in China’s leadership have caught many by surprise and have created doubts about the continuity of policies. The confidence of foreign actors in engaging with China may be affected if such events continue to occur. The sudden and opaque nature of these developments has shed light on the fact that intimacy does not necessarily equate to patronage within Xi’s world. Some scholars speculate that Xi is close to General Zhang Youxia, who holds a higher rank on the Central Military Commission and is considered Xi’s closest ally.
The disappearance of Defense Minister Li comes at a time when China is increasing military engagement around Taiwan and asserting its claims in disputed areas in the East and South China Seas. This escalation has led to speculation and concerns about policy continuity among diplomats and analysts. The deployment of troops and militia activities in the region have the potential to increase the risks of accidents, escalation, and crisis.
Overall, the uncertainty surrounding China’s leadership and its aggressive military actions are raising questions about the country’s future direction and its relationships with other nations. The lack of transparency and the potential political purge further add to the complexities and challenges faced by diplomats and analysts in understanding China’s motivations and intentions.