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China replaces defense minister, out of public view for 2 months, with little explanation

China has replaced Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu, who has been out of public view for almost two months with little explanation, state media reported Tuesday.

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.

Li, who became defense minister during a Cabinet reshuffle in March, hasn’t been seen since giving a speech on Aug. 29. There is no indication that the disappearances of Qin and Li signal a change in China’s foreign or defense policies, although they have raised questions about the resilience of president and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s circle of power.

Xi has a reputation for valuing loyalty above all and has relentlessly attacked corruption in public and private, sometimes in what has been seen as a method of eliminating political rivals and shoring up his political position amid a deteriorating economy and rising tensions with the U.S. over trade, technology and Taiwan.

Li is under U.S. sanctions related to his overseeing weapon purchases from Russia that bar him from entering the country. 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.

The announcement from state broadcaster CCTV said that both Li and Qin had been removed from the State Council, China’s Cabinet and the center of government power. That virtually assures the end of their political careers, although it remains unclear whether they will face prosecution or other legal sanctions.

China’s political and legal systems remain highly opaque, fueling lively discussion of possible corruption, personal foibles or fallings-out with other powerful figures leading to the downfall of top officials.

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