The Big Chinese Purge

Large-scale unceremonious removals of important functionaries and ministers are being done this year. Why is Xi Jinping doing this?

The Big Chinese Purge
Photo by zhang kaiyv / Unsplash
brown animal skull on brown rock formation during daytime
Photo by Leo / Unsplash
“If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again.”
― Malcom X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Li Shangfu was the defense minister and Qin Gang was the foreign minister.  Both are now ousted. 

Both were hand-picked by Xi Jinping himself.

Qin was abruptly removed in July without explanation and Li hadn’t been seen for months.

Qin was the architect of the wolf-warrior diplomacy was Xi’s protégé.  He was a former US ambassador and was promoted to foreign minister in December.

In early 2023, he missed some high-profile meetings by visiting US functionaries like Treasury Secretary Janet Yallen and Climate envoy John Kerry.

“It’s impossible to know why he has not been seen, because secrecy is part of the political system in China and there is very little information when it comes to public figures,” said Frans-Paul van der Putten, a senior researcher at the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank. (Source: “Where is China's foreign minister? Qin Gang hasn’t been seen for 3 weeks, missing high-level U.S.-China talks” / NBC News)

Wang Yi replaced Qin and is going to visit the US for a visit with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Yi was a foreign minister before Qin and was senior to the ousted foreign minister.

In May earlier this year, China had declined a meeting between Li and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"Overnight, the PRC informed the U.S. that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary (Lloyd) Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore," the Pentagon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, referring to China by the initials of its official name, the People's Republic of China. (Source: “China declines US request for a meeting between defense chiefs” / Reuters)

Interestingly, the US put sanctions on Li in 2018 because China had purchased combat aircraft and equipment from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter.

On October 24th, China Central Television (CCTV) made the announcements about the removal of the two ministers.

Two other ministers were removed. The science and technology minister, Wang Zhigang, and the finance minister, Liu Kun.  The Science and Technology party secretary, Yin Hejun, and the Finance Ministry party secretary, Lan Fo’an have replaced them.

Quite unexpectedly in August, Xi also replaced two generals who were in charge of China’s nuclear and missile arsenal.

State media reported that Gen. Li Yuchao, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s rocket force unit, and his deputy, Gen. Liu Guangbin, were replaced by a naval officer and an air force officer. The new leaders, former deputy Chinese navy chief Wang Houbin and party central committee member Xu Xishen, have not previously served in the force — a dramatic break with practice, experts said. “It’s unprecedented in the history of China’s missile forces,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a professor of political science and director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Source: “China replaces nuclear force leadership in surprise shake-up”/ NBC)

On July 28th, more removals had happened.

Le Yucheng was removed from the post of deputy director of the National Radio and Television Administration and Gao Peiyong was removed from the post of vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, while Lyu Erxue was relieved of his position as deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China. (Source: State Council appoints, removes officials / State Council of PRC)

July also saw more folks leave the government.

Source: China's State Council appoints, removes officials / State Council PRC

The obvious question is what is going on in China? Why is this purge happening?

Times of India's story suggests that it could be either a show of Xi's strength or his insecurities.

Source: Mysterious sackings of top ministers in China / Times of India

We had discussed the intrigues of Chinese politics sometime back.

Drishtikone Newsletter #363: Understanding Chinese Politics Intrigues
When Hu Jintao was thrown out of the 20th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, many things were set it motion. So what happened and why? What is Xi Jinping up to?

Steve Tsang, a Chinese expert at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, says that it could be further consolidation of "Xi's faction" within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Xi is breaking with precedent by taking down his own powerful appointees, further turning the entire Communist Party “into the Xi faction,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. (Source: "Loyalty above all: Removal of top Chinese officials seen as enforcing Xi’s demand for obedience"/AP)

So what is really going on?

Our Perspective (or दृष्टिकोण - Drishtikone)

These actions are a manifestation of both Xi's understanding of his vulnerabilities and a way to create strength for himself. Just as Xi Jinping was a close rising star to Hu Jintao and one day got him out unceremoniously, Xi must always be living in fear of someone doing to him what he did to Hu.

So letting anyone get even powerful enough and being in that state for long enough is an existential threat to Xi Jinping.

The more dispensable powerful bureaucrats feel within the Chinese system, the more powerful Xi becomes. When they live in fear of random purge, they will toe Xi's line within and outside China to the hilt.

Xi's eye is also on the larger geopolitical prize. We did discuss the Hamas attack and the backend work that China may be doing to orchestrate a large geopolitical coup.

Was the Hamas Attack Part of a Larger Chinese Plan?
Attack by Hamas took a lot to accomplish. The sudden Chinese bonhomie with Syria and the bringing together of Arab - Sunni and Shia countries and actors by Xi Jinping’s regime raises some questions .

Xi Jinping needs subservient lieutenants to effect that agenda. Those whom he can depend on completely!

He is getting a "Yes team" to take on the world. And that is what he is going for.

This should be extremely disconcerting for China. With no dissent or different ideas, and purge stifling every voice other than the ones that align with Xi's, the Chinese actions could be random, based on ego, and even without larger support or passion. If the larger establishment is doing work out of fear as opposed to passion, then there is little element of responsibility or ownership.

That is the greatest weakness in the Chinese system today.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Drishtikone - Online Magazine on Geopolitics and Culture from Indian Perspective.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.