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Updated Jul 25, 2023, 12:15pm EDT
securityEast Asia

China’s foreign minister Qin Gang sacked

Terje Pedersen/NTB/via REUTERS
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The News

China’s foreign minister Qin Gang has been removed from his post, following an abrupt disappearance that has lasted weeks. He will be replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, state media reported.

The decision was made Tuesday in an emergency session held by the Chinese Communist Party’s top decision-making body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The lawmakers voted to have the 57-year-old foreign minister replaced effectively but did not provide an explanation for his removal —prompting further speculation about his mysterious months-long absence.

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We’ve curated insightful analysis and reporting on Qin Gang’s disappearance and subsequent dismissal.

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Insights

  • It’s not unusual for Chinese officials and entrepreneurs to disappear under the guise of poor health or for no reason at all — only to surface weeks or months later without explanation or under criminal investigation. “Secrecy is the chosen mode of operation because for the Chinese Communist Party, information is a weapon,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. In the case of Qin Gang, the mystery surrounding the absence of such a high-level official at a time when China is attempting to shore up its diplomacy is “mind-boggling.” — The New York Times
  • A rumor attributing the minister’s disappearance to an extramarital affair with famous TV news anchor Fu Xiaotian has been reported by Taiwanese and Hong Kong media and has dominated Chinese social media in recent weeks. The BBC reported that searches for Qin’s name on Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, skyrocketed amid reports of his absence — up 5,000% in a week. Fu has also reportedly not been seen since a “flirtatious” TV interview between the pair surfaced online.
  • Qin’s perceived closeness with Chinese leader Xi Jinping heightens the intrigue of his disappearance. Qin enjoyed an unusually fast rise within China’s foreign service — first as the Foreign Ministry spokesman, then as Chief Protocol Officer, Vice Minister, and Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., before landing his most recent post. Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper, earlier told CNN that any problems with Qin will “reflect badly on Xi too — implying that Xi failed to choose the right person for the job.”
  • Qin Gang may have lost his title as foreign minister, but he appears to still retain his role as state councilor — suggesting that he “may be professionally in trouble but he is not politically dead yet,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University. He also speculated that Wang Yi might be a “placeholder” for the foreign minister job, given that he is past the retirement age for cabinet members. The “continued uncertainty” around this saga is “not great for the effectiveness of China’s international outreach,” Sung said.
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Know More

The last time Qin had been seen in public was on June 25, when he met with diplomats from Vietnam, Russia, and Sri Lanka. Since then, he had not shown up to scheduled engagements.

Wang Yi, who will be returning to his old role, had attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Indonesia earlier this month — an annual meeting where the region’s foreign ministers gather. This week, Wang was also in South Africa for a BRICS meeting.

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The Chinese government had initially refused to comment on Qin’s absence, but then subsequently said that the foreign minister was out of work due to ill health. When pressed for details, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said she had “no information to provide.”

After the abrupt announcement on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry website scrubbed most traces of Qin Gang — leaving just some mentions of the minister’s most recent meetings on the English-language version.

All details under the section “The Minister” were wiped.

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Notable

  • Semafor’s Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons first broke the news of Qin Gang’s appointment to foreign minister late last year, writing that Qin’s ascension may signal a more “informed and nuanced diplomatic tone in U.S.- China relations.” Clemons previously sat down with Qin at Semafor’s U.S.-Africa summit, where the two discussed China’s view of the continent as the “bedrock” of Beijing’s foreign policy.
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