Ex-Chinese defence minister’s absence from Lunar New Year list sparks questions


China’s former defence minister Wei Fenghe was missing from a list of retired senior officials who were sent Lunar New Year greetings by the country’s leadership, raising speculation about his fate following the abrupt removal of his successor last year.

Wei did not attend an official reception to mark National Day last year and was also missing from a list of around 100 figures who were sent greetings to mark the start of the Year of the Dragon – an annual courtesy usually paid to all retired officials of a comparable rank.

Wei’s predecessors as defence minister – Chang Wanquan, Liang Guanglie, Cao Gangchuan and Chi Haotian – were all included in the list published on Wednesday.

Wei’s successor as defence minister Li Shangfu was abruptly sacked and stripped of his rank as State Councillor with no explanation offered later in the year.

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The current Defence Minister Dong Jun, a former head of the navy, has yet to be named as a state councillor or given a place on the top military decision-making body, the Central Military Commission (CMC), as all previous defence ministers have been.

State councillor appointments are the responsibility of the legislature, the National People’s Congress, which will meet in March and a place on the CMC would have to be confirmed at the next plenary session of the Communist Party’s Central Committee at a date to be confirmed.

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However, the situation has prompted speculation that President Xi Jinping’s overhaul of the top ranks of the PLA is still ongoing.

Wei held a number of senior posts relating to the PLA’s nuclear arsenal and became the first head of the rocket force when it was formed in 2015 as part of a major military overhaul.

His two successors as head of the force, Zhou Yaning and Li Yuchao, were both ousted from positions in the National People’s Congress in December along with seven other senior PLA officers, including two of their deputies and a head of the rocket force’s equipment development programme.

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There was no reason given for their disqualification as NPC representatives, but such a move usually leads to further action as delegates enjoy immunity from being arrested or investigated for criminal charges.

The military has been one of the main targets of Xi’s far-reaching anti-corruption campaign. Two of the most prominent targets to have fallen were Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both former vice chairmen of the CMC. Guo was jailed for life for bribery in 2016, while Xu died of cancer in 2015 while facing court martial.



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