In an unprecedented move, China on Thursday officially announced corruption investigations into two former defence ministers — Wei Fenghe and his successor Li Shangfu — who have also been expelled from the Communist Party of China (CPC).


The decision, reported by state news agency Xinhua, was taken following a meeting on Thursday of the CPC’s Politburo.


The announcement comes after Li, China’s shortest-serving defence minister, was abruptly dismissed months ago. Li was stripped of his position in October, just seven months after taking charge as China’s defence minister. Before Li, Wei had held the position from 2018 to 2023.


Both Li and Wei will face criminal prosecution, according to the Xinhua report.


This is the first time in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that corruption probes into two former defence ministers have been announced on the same day.


According to two separate Xinhua reports, the CPC’s leadership on Thursday decided to expel Li and Wei for serious violation of party discipline and the law, which experts say is usually a euphemism for corruption.


During a meeting of the Politburo of the CPC Central Committee, Li and Wei, who both formerly served as members of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and state councilors, were deprived of their position as delegates to the 20th CPC National Congress.


According to Xinhua, the CMC’s disciplinary and supervisory agency had launched an investigation into Li in August last year and against Wei in September.


The investigations reportedly found that Li and Wei seriously violated political and organisational discipline, sought improper benefits for themselves and others, and accepted significant sums of money and valuables in return.


While Li is suspected of the crimes of both taking and offering bribes, Wei is suspected of only the former.


“As a high-ranking official of the party and the military, Li betrayed the party’s original aspiration and its principles,” says the Xinhua report, adding, “His actions failed the trust of the Party Central Committee and the CMC, and severely contaminated the political environment of the equipment sector in the military and the ethics of relevant industries.” The other Xinhua report used virtually the same words to describe Wei’s actions and their impact.


According to the reports, Li and Wei’s actions have brought “enormous damage” to the CPC’s cause, the development of China’s national defence and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), as well as “the image of senior officials”.


Citing the investigation findings, the report on Li described his violations as “extremely serious” in nature, adding that they have had a “highly detrimental impact” and caused “tremendous harm”. Once again, the other report used the same terms to describe Wei’s actions.


As a result, the reports on Li and Wei say that the Politburo has decided to transfer their cases to the Chinese military’s prosecutorial organs for examination and prosecution.


Li’s expulsion from the party will be confirmed by the CPC Central Committee during its plenary session in mid-July. Earlier, the CMC had expelled Li and Wei from military service and deprived them of their rank of general.


After disappearing for months, Li was abruptly, and without explanation, removed as defence minister in October 2023.


Previously, Li had headed the Equipment Development Department of the Central Military Commission. Dong Jun, an ex-navy chief, took over as Li’s replacement.


Since taking power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has embarked on a wide-ranging anti-corruption programme, with the PLA being one of its primary targets.


Li’s predecessor, Wei, who had resigned in March 2023, had also disappeared from public sight in August that same year.


Wei’s disappearance had come amid an investigation into corruption within the Rocket Force — a key arm of the PLA that oversees China’s tactical and nuclear missiles.


Wei was previously commander of the Rocket Force and became China’s defence minister in March 2018.

First Published: Jun 27 2024 | 7:59 PM IST



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