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May 8, 2024

Former Chinese Defence Minister Emerges from Prolonged Absence, Political Fate Uncertain

China’s former Defence Minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, has reappeared in public after a prolonged absence, sparking speculation about his political fate. Wei’s tribute to a senior Chinese legislator who recently passed away suggests that he may be politically safe, according to a report by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

The floral tribute, laid at the funeral of senior official Oyunqemag, 81, indicates that Wei, 70, could be in a secure political position. However, there is still uncertainty surrounding the fate of Wei’s successor, Gen. Li Shangfu, who disappeared from public view and was later sacked.

Former Foreign Minister Qin Gang has also faced a similar fate, with neither he nor Li seen in public recently. Wei’s name was spotted on a wreath at Oyunqemag’s funeral, where he paid his respects. The tribute was visible among those from other former state councillors, with wreaths from President Xi Jinping and other incumbent officials in the middle.

Wei, who previously headed the PLA Rocket Force, disappeared from public view after Li’s abrupt removal as defence minister in October last year. Li, who, like Wei, spent much of his career in the PLA’s rocket wing, was stripped of his rank as a state councillor and removed from the Central Military Commission (CMC), the top decision-making body.

Wei’s indirect reappearance suggests that he may have escaped the purges that followed Li’s disgrace, which targeted top brass in the People’s Liberation Army, including commanders of the rocket force. In China’s opaque political system, both direct and indirect appearances in official settings are significant indicators of one’s political fate.

Wei’s absence from an official National Day reception last year was the first sign that he might be in trouble. Additionally, he was not included in a list of around 130 retired senior officials who received Lunar New Year greetings from the Communist Party leadership in February.

In March of this year, Gen. He Weidong, the second-ranked vice-chairman of the CMC, made surprising remarks during the annual parliament sessions, casting doubt on the PLA’s combat capabilities and calling for a crackdown on fake combat skills.

These remarks come in the context of recent purges carried out by Chinese President Xi Jinping, including the sacking of Defence Minister Gen. Li Shangfu last year and the removal of nine senior generals, many from key positions within the Rocket Force.

The reappearance of Wei Fenghe hints at the complex power dynamics within the Chinese military and political circles, leaving observers curious about the implications for the country’s future military leadership and broader political landscape.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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