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China will host Xiangshan Forum, but no word on missing defence chief

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Beijing will host the Xiangshan Forum in October, but it is not clear if defence chief General Li Shangfu – who has not been seen in public for a month – will attend the regional security talks.

Defence ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Wu Qian confirmed on Thursday that the forum will be held from October 29 to 31.

It is the first time that the event – China’s answer to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – will be held in person since 2019.

“So far, more than 40 countries and international organisations have confirmed they will send delegates and renowned experts to the forum, while many scholars at home and overseas have also confirmed their attendance,” Wu told reporters in Beijing.

But he sidestepped a question about Li at the press briefing.

“I do not know about this issue,” Wu said when asked if Li was still the defence minister.

China’s defence chief would normally host the Xiangshan Forum, meet delegates and give a keynote address.

Li last appeared in public at the end of August and on Wednesday was absent from a Politburo study session. There has been no explanation from Beijing, fuelling speculation that he could be under investigation.

Ministry spokesman Wu said the theme of this year’s Xiangshan Forum was “Common security and lasting peace”. Sessions will cover issues ranging from global security cooperation to the role of developing countries on global security, and the path and goals of regional security and development.

The forum – which Beijing uses to voice its views on regional disputes – has been held since 2006 but was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two days of virtual talks were held last year.

Beijing-based military commentator Li Jie said this year’s forum would be “more significant and high-profile”.

“Not only does it mark the 10th session [of the event] but it will also be the first face-to-face get-together of military elites since the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Invitations to the forum were sent in late August by General Yang Xuejun, chairman of the China Association for Military Science, and Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng, chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies, a think tank composed of retired PLA senior generals.

Jing, who is also deputy chief of the Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department, attended the Shangri-La Dialogue in June. Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, he lashed out at US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin for trying to “pull out of Beijing’s one-China principle” and “seriously distorting the facts and truth” of Taiwan’s status.

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