China’s Communist Party expels ex-defence ministers over corruption charges

Purge targets Li Shangfu and Wei Fenghe, the expulsions coinciding with heightened tensions with US over Taiwan.

General Li Shangfu
Former Chinese Defence Minister General Li Shangfu, pictured during a session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing [File: Andy Wong/AP Photo]

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has expelled former Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who was sacked last year, and his predecessor, as part of an anticorruption crackdown, according to state media.

The expulsion of Li, who was not seen in public for almost two months before he was fired in October 2023, and predecessor Wei Fenghe for the “serious violation of party discipline and the law” was reported by official news agency Xinhua on Thursday.

Their expulsions from the party come at a time of increasing tension between China and the United States over a range of issues including the democratic island of Taiwan, and the disputed South China Sea.

Xinhua reported that Li’s case had been referred to military prosecutors, potentially setting up a trial that could lead to him getting life in prison.

The announcement followed a meeting of the party’s powerful Politburo of senior leaders to review Li’s status. They ruled that Li had “betrayed his original mission and lost his party spirit and principles”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Li is alleged to have “seriously polluted the political environment and industrial ethos in the field of military equipment, and caused great damage to the party’s cause, national defence and the construction of the armed forces”.

The former defence minister was also accused of bribery, suspected of “taking advantage of his position and taking huge sums of money to seek benefits for others … and giving money to others to seek inappropriate benefits”, said CCTV.

Wei, who retired as defence minister in 2023 after five years in office, was accused of accepting money and gifts in violation of the rules and taking advantage of his post to seek benefits for others, accepting money and valuables in return, according to Xinhua.

Wei’s case has also been referred to military prosecutors.

President Xi Jinping, who is also party leader and heads the armed forces as chairman of the Central Military Commission, has made the fight against corruption a hallmark of his rule since taking power more than a decade ago.

Insiders have alleged a widespread purge of officers suspected of conspiring with outside forces or simply being insufficiently loyal to Xi. High-ranking officers occupy an elevated position in Chinese politics and can command extensive privileges. Li was considered a Xi loyalist.

Chinese media also reported on Thursday that the CCP would hold its high level third plenum on July 15-18, much later than expected. They plenum will focus on future strategies aimed at boosting the world’s number two economy as geopolitical tensions rise over tariff hikes by the US and the European Union.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies