Rahm Emanuel, the famously combative U.S. politician turned ambassador to Japan, again questioned the whereabouts of China’s Minister of Defence Li Shangfu.
Li, according to Reuters, was last seen in public on Aug. 29 while delivering a keynote address at a security forum.
This comes on the heels of the “disappearance” and replacement of former foreign minister, Qin Gang.
Qin has not been seen since July 2023, and abruptly replaced as foreign minister by his predecessor and China’s most senior diplomat Wang Yi.
Then as now, rumours swirled regarding the reason for the replacement.
Into this steps Emanual, former U.S. congressman, mayor of the city of Chicago, and the former White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama, has been the U.S. ambassador to Japan since March 2022.
He has thus far been the most prominent U.S. diplomat to remark on Li’s disappearance, starting with a tweet on Sep. 8, where he compared the situation to the Agatha Christie mystery novel, “And Then There Were None”.
President Xi’s cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. First, Foreign Minister Qin Gang goes missing, then the Rocket Force commanders go missing, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen in public for two weeks. Who’s going…
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) September 8, 2023
First referencing Qin’s disappearance, he then pointed to the shake-up in China’s Rocket Force, which is responsible for its land-based ballistic missile capability, among other things.
Emanual then went on to say that Li has not been seen in two weeks, and took a jab at China’s youth unemployment situation, asking who was going to be unemployed first: all of China’s youth or China’s president Xi Jinping’s cabinet.
On Sep. 15, Emanuel tweeted again, referencing the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet.
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” 1st: Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen or heard from in 3 weeks. 2nd: He was a no-show for his trip to Vietnam. Now: He’s absent from his scheduled meeting with the Singaporean Chief of Navy…
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) September 15, 2023
He alluded to a supposed missed scheduled meeting that Li was to have with Singapore’s Chief of Navy, Sean Wat.
Reuters reported that it could not establish which meeting Emanuel was referring to though.
Mothership has also reached out to the Ministry of Defence, and will update the story if we receive further details.
Emanuel also said Li had not attended a defence cooperation meeting with Vietnamese officials, scheduled for Sep 7 and 8, according to Reuters.
The ambassador then speculated that Li was under house arrest, and then mysteriously alluded to China’s ongoing real estate bubble by mentioning distressed real estate developers Country Garden, saying that Li “had paid off his mortgage”.
Of note is that Emanuel tweeted from his @USAmbJapan handle, as opposed to his personal Twitter profile, implying that this is more than just private speculation.
The Financial Times reported that the U.S. believed that Li has been placed under investigation, and several officials also believed that Li had been removed from his position as defence minister.
FT further reported that Li’s no-show with Vietnamese officials was attributed to “health issues”, similar to how Qin’s absence had also been attributed to “health issues” before his replacement.
Experts FT spoke to said the churn in high level leaders in China was an indication of the difficulty that China has had with weeding out corruption amongst its highest ranks.
A former CIA expert FT quoted also pointed out that it was indicative of how “deeply flawed” the vetting process for top officials was, and that corruption was still commonplace in China despite Xi Jinping’s decade in power.
Top image via YouTube/International Institute for Strategic Studies