High-ranking CCP officials have been disappearing. What’s going on behind the scenes?

Li Shangfu

Major developments have occurred in the ongoing political war within the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping has been further cracking down on his enemies, but despite some success, the noose is tightening around him.

On February 25, state-run Xinhua released the full work report of China’s top anti-graft body - the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, or CCDI. That’s Xi Jinping’s so-called anti-corruption agency, which he’s used to purge his political rivals.

The figures were even more shocking than expected. In 2023 alone, the CCDI dealt with nearly 2.7 million individuals. Xi Jinping has made purging corruption in the Communist Party the cornerstone of his reign.

Although ongoing for over ten years and involving almost 2.7 million people in 2023 alone, Xi's fight against corruption isn’t going well. This is on top of the significant military purge at the end of 2023.

The CCDI report identifies 34 purged central government officials, calling them “two-faced people,” and says 87 are being investigated. But what is interesting is that two names were not included in that list.

Li Shangfu, China’s former Defence Minister, went missing in late August and was officially purged two months later. The other high-ranking official is Qin Gang, China’s former Foreign Minister and close ally of Xi.

Rumours about Qin Gang have been particularly wild, even in Chinese politics. The earliest rumours had him missing for having an affair with state-run Phoenix TV reporter Fu Xiaotian. This rumour even expanded to claim there was a child between them who got US citizenship, and somehow, as time passed, rumours got even crazier.

In December, Politico released an article that claimed: “Qin died, either from suicide or torture, in late July in the military hospital in Beijing" following a secret meeting between Xi and Russia’s deputy foreign minister, who warned Xi “that Qin had helped pass Chinese nuclear secrets to Western intelligence agencies.”

This news was broadcast on social media in China, and netizens were busy gossiping about Qin’s disappearance. This could be easily perceived as there are many prohibitions on the state-run mainstream media. So it seems, despite rumours that he committed suicide or died after torture, Qin Gang is probably alive and mostly well.

On February 27, The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued a notice about removing 11 deputies.

Of those, four resigned—no one knows why they stepped down. It could be personal reasons, or it could be because they were pressured. However, there are seven dismissals, which means they are “likely to have been found guilty of major wrongdoing and are likely to be handed over to the PRC’s judicial authorities.”

Qin Gang is one of the resignations. The fact that Qin was able to resign voluntarily suggests he has not been found guilty of any significant wrongdoing. Remember, in the context of Chinese Communist Party infighting, all that means is that the people backing Qin won, not that he was a good guy.

Remember, Qin is an ally of Xi Jinping. Xi most likely targeted Qin because his political opponents forced him to do so on national security grounds. Xi needed to give Qin a soft landing.

As Sino-insider, a risk consultancy that specialises in elite Chinese politics, says, that “would likely improve or stabilise the morale of Xi’s political allies and loyalists as they would believe that their political patron is not paranoid like Mao Zedong and can still be relied upon to largely protect their interests even in tricky political situations.”

Contrary to how Politico tried to frame it. Interestingly, Li Shangfu was missing from the list of dismissals or resignations. Li is still a deputy to the NPC. The National People’s Congress is China's rubber stamp congress. There’s an ongoing probe into China’s military, suggesting whatever is going on with Li Shangfu is more severe than what’s happening with Qin Gang.

The most recent update about Li Shangfu is from around February 26. His name was removed from the list of top leaders of the Central Military Commission on the website of the PRC defence ministry, but it was still there at least on January 3 of this year.

The Communist Party is holding a major yearly meeting called the Two Sessions. It’s possible his dismissal could be announced there. The political infighting within the Communist Party is only heating up. Let’s look back at the CCDI’s work report again.

One thing that has been noticed is the continuing emphasis on Xi Jinping's thoughts and ideology. This is important.

As Sino-Insider says, “if Xi was very secure in his power and position, he would be comfortable with tapering back his indoctrination and intimidation efforts and would not need to continually make it known to the public that he is firmly in charge and senior officials must answer to him.”

However, the more extended Xi resorts to the iron fist of the Chinese Communist Party and its ideology to secure his power, the more resentment he’ll breed within the Party and internationally. Xi is increasingly viewed as an unstable authoritarian, and at a time when China’s economy is so unstable, it could spell disaster for the Chinese Communist Party.

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