3

So recently two Chinese Government Ministers and a few high ranking PLA officers have gone missing.

If the world’s best China experts can’t figure out what happened to one of the country’s most internationally recognizable officials, then imagine what else remains hidden behind the regime’s closed doors.


Previously, it's been billionaires and public figures who have gone missing.

  • Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma has rarely been seen in public since he criticized China's financial regulators.
  • billionaire deal maker Bao Fan, Feb 2023
  • Last year international tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared after she accused a former vice-premier of sexual assault.
  • 2019 China's Interpol chief Meng Hongwei disappeared A former vice-minister of public security in China
  • Aug 2021, billionaire film star and pop singer Zhao Wei in effect vanished from public life in China, with her online presence erased. Her films and TV shows were also removed from popular streaming sites.
  • March 2020 billionaire real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang disappeared after calling President Xi a clown publicly for his handling of Covid.
  • Xmen movie star Fan Bingbing went missing for about a year in 2018.
  • billionaire Chinese-Canadian businessman Xiao Jianhua disappeared from a luxury hotel in Hong Kong in 2017.
  • billionaire Guo Guangchang, chairman of conglomerate Fosun International, which is best known in the West for owning English Premier League football club Wolverhampton Wanderers went missing in 2015.

Why disappear government Ministers and army officials? Are their disappearances more ominous than the disappearances of the public figures?

13
  • 1
    Seems like it is just people who criticize the government or otherwise make them look bad.
    – Joe W
    Sep 18, 2023 at 17:18
  • A purge, fallen out of favor, paranoia? However, please note that people here also only have public sources as info. You already (and rather untypically for a question) found a lot of sources. They may already partly answer your question (as far as it's possible to answer it). It will be difficult to find more sources. The answers shouldn't just contain wild speculations. Also it's very Machiavellian to constantly exchange lower ranks so that nobody can grow too much personal power except for the supreme leader. Sep 18, 2023 at 17:21
  • 4
    The current title is only grammatically correct if "disappear" is being used as a transitive verb (compare "Why kill ministers?") This would make it a bit of a "push question," since it would imply that the government "disappeared them." The intransitive phrasing with "did" only implies that they disappeared without presupposing an actor (and also sounds more natural, since "disappear" as a transitive verb is typically used in passive constructions in English "was disappeared by."
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 18, 2023 at 17:54
  • 3
    I'm not sure how you can call them "people who criticize the government" when they are the government.
    – alamar
    Sep 18, 2023 at 19:58
  • 1
    @alamar They are able to criticize things that are not related to their job, and even if it is and they try to correct it they are still able to criticize the government. The point being just because you are part of the government doesn't mean you can't criticize it.
    – Joe W
    Sep 20, 2023 at 21:53

4 Answers 4

12

Why disappear government Ministers and army officials?

There are plausible reasons for doing this rather than publicly arresting or executing a government minister or army official, and in lieu of simply firing the person disappeared from their job as a Western leader might.

High on the list is that it makes it harder to mobilize opposition to the action taken when it isn't possible to definitively say who did what to the person.

There is no prison warden or prosecutor or other government official to complain to about the appropriateness of the action to seize the person, or the fairness of the seizure. The lack of someone to complain to also keeps the merits of disputes of whether the seizure of that person was rightful out of the public discussion.

If it all goes wrong and is indefensible, the person seized can be liquidated in secret and private kidnappers or criminals can be blamed. If that person's faction comes back into power and the person seized has been treated well in the meantime, then that person can reappear as if nothing happened and the blame for the absence can be placed on an illness or injury or a vacation.

This also takes the person off the political playing board so to speak, while they are disappeared, preventing them from organizing opposition to, or challenging, the regime.

This answer, of course, addresses this political tactic in general and doesn't specifically address why these particular people were disappeared at this particular time.

3
  • 6
    Note that it is possible that a disappeared official was simply fired from their job without anything else happening. With Chinese state controlled media they can't go to the press and talk about the firing and if their superiors don't make any statements to the media they are just gone and there is no further information. Of course it can be much worse but if they just disappeared there is simply no way to know.
    – quarague
    Sep 19, 2023 at 6:24
  • 1
    @quarague If the person was fired, however, that would start the process of filling the vacancy in their office and give a lot of other officials "acting" status which would be hard to miss. The bureaucratic logic would have lots of impacts that are not seen.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:08
  • 1
    @quarague, How do you "fire" a professional tennis player? an actor who works on international films , billionaire entrepreneurs, or a social media celebrity? As for the Defense Minister, If he was simple fired why did they say he was ill? Then of coarse why did they say after weeks of silence that he is in custody of state security on corruption charges? Your claim seems to strain credulity given what we do know.
    – user47010
    Sep 19, 2023 at 13:52
1

The [perceived] advantages of such an approach have been laid out in the accepted answer. I'll add here that there's some reflection of that even in official Chinese legislation, e.g. investigations by the (Xi-established) anti-corruption committee (the National Supervision Commission) are not subject to the criminal procedure code (or supervision by the Supreme Court) in the early stages.

Shanggui is a system of secret detention operated by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) without basis in Chinese law. Communist Party members under investigation for corruption or other violation of party rules are detained for interrogation at a “designated place and a designated time” without any contact with the world outside. Detention for interrogation may not exceed three months but may be extended one time for up to an additional three months. Detainees are typically held in locations other than police stations or jails and may be tortured, beaten, or otherwise mistreated. After they confess they are typically transferred to judicial organs for prosecution. Although in theory the procuracy is separate from the Party, prosecutors often participate in shanggui interrogation.

The new [2018] law provides for liuzhi (“detention in place” or “retention in custody”), extralegal detention not only for Party members but for any “public servants” who receive a salary from the government and who are investigated for “illegal and criminal misconduct.” Investigations are to be conducted by the Supervision Commissions; if criminal conduct is found, the person is to be handed over to the Procuratorate for prosecution. This procedure, like shanggui, is not subject to China’s Criminal Procedure Law.

Now, of course, it's less than clear [in practice] how much the recently officialized disappearance procedure has supplanted the extra-legal one.


N.B. Torture appears pretty common in the new/revamped liuzhi system, as it was in the older shanggui. Also, the "exceptions" to notify the relatives are apparently applied systematically in all such forms of detention in China:

Upon apprehension, the family, as with RSDL [‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’], shall be notified, however, there are exceptions to this rule. If the entity responsible for the detention feels notification of family could somehow undermine their investigation, it may choose to not notify. Regardless, the whereabouts of the target need not be disclosed. With RSDL, for which there is more data, it is known that these exceptions are applied systematically.

Also, these methods (torture and cut of contacts) are both basically aimed at extracting confessions, particularly because

Jiang Mingan, a Peking University law professor, elaborated further: corruption cases are "heavily dependent on the suspect's confession. (...) If he (the suspect) remains silent under the advice of a lawyer, it would be very hard to crack the case".

Unlike in many Western systems, confession extracted under torture is then acceptable [in practice] to Chinese prosecutors. The NSC passes results of their investigations to the latter.

4
  • Can you give some context on the source? From your intro blurb I first thought that this is the official Chinese government position but reading the quote it is clearly not.
    – quarague
    Sep 21, 2023 at 7:51
  • @quarague: which one? Sep 22, 2023 at 15:01
  • The first block quote which I presume is from thediplomat.com but I don't know anything about that site.
    – quarague
    Sep 22, 2023 at 15:23
  • @quarague: here's the author's bio. The [two] paras don't make much value judgements, but based on the author's level of experience with China affairs, I hope they are factually accurate for what they say. Sep 22, 2023 at 16:04
0

A brutal result in chinese government internal power struggles.

Although in recent years president Xi has a strong grip on the "loyalty" of the party. He merely united the party under one flag. Yet it doesn't mean internal fight won't exist. Different politician can use Xi's word to attack its political opponent and its related financial supporter. And apparently Xi has his mood change all the time to change people all the time.

Don't think it is any external power that make these people disappear.

Xi has shown his determination at cutting loose from the external realm since the covid locked down. Xi simply don't care about external affair as long as his "order" is persistent. So the possiblity of external affair influencing the official decision at human resources is as low as Xi willing to give up the trade war or the claim on taiwan province.

-1

It was traditional for a "disappearance" to imply a killing - a permanent disappearance.

But Jack Ma hasn't disappeared at all, and seems to have settled into a foreign teaching role: https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/19/tech/jack-ma-teaching-japan-university-of-tokyo-intl-hnk/index.html

These seem to be simple cases of wrongdoing or political meddling where people step back from the media spotlight, rather than actual disappearances.

1
  • @JMS, I don't agree. It's an intentionally loaded word. The "absence" you refer to implies absence from friends and family - not mere absence from the foreign media. It may coincide with a crackdown, and that's consistent with what I said that wrongdoers step back from the media spotlight.
    – Steve
    Sep 20, 2023 at 21:04

You must log in to answer this question.