China Replaces Foreign Minister Qin Gang After Month-Long Absence

China Replaces Foreign Minister Qin Gang After Month-Long Absence
Qin Gang, state councilor and foreign minister of China, walks off stage after delivering a speech during the opening ceremony of the Lanting Forum in Shanghai on April 21, 2023. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

China on July 25 removed its newly appointed foreign minister Qin Gang, ending speculation about his future after his month-long unexplained absence.

Top diplomat Wang Yi replaced Mr. Qin to become China’s foreign minister, according to state media outlet Xinhua.

Mr. Wang had served as the foreign minister for nearly a decade before being appointed to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) Foreign Affairs Commission, a post that outranked the ministerial position in the regime’s opaque political system.

Mr. Qin’s sudden dismissal came after a meteoric rise. Mr. Qin, who was widely seen as Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s protégé, took over the foreign minister’s job in December 2022, becoming one of the youngest officials to hold that position. During the major political reshuffle in March, Mr. Qin was named a state councilor.

The announcement provides no explanation of Mr. Qin’s departure.

As of July 25, Mr. Qin had been completely out of the public eye for a month. The last time Mr. Qin was seen in state media was on June 25, when he welcomed the visiting diplomats from Russia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Since then, he has missed several major meetings, including the gathering of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Indonesia earlier this month.

At first, Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, attributed Mr. Qin’s absence only to “health reasons.”

The official silence only fueled speculations. Hong Kong and Taiwan media reports suggested that the reason is an extramarital affair with television anchor Fu Xiaotian. Analysts, meanwhile, pointed to Mr. Wang’s dissatisfaction with Mr. Qin’s work.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is seen on large screens as he holds a press conference at the Media Center in Beijing on March 7, 2022. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is seen on large screens as he holds a press conference at the Media Center in Beijing on March 7, 2022. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

Earlier on July 25, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, was once again asked about Mr. Qin during the daily briefing.

“I have no information to offer,” she told reporters. “China’s diplomatic activities are underway as usual.”

The 57-year-old Mr. Qin gained a reputation for his sharp rhetoric in retorts to Western criticism of the regime while serving as a spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry from 2005 to 2010 and from 2011 to 2014.

In 2009, in response to a question about why YouTube was being blocked in China, Mr. Qin told reporters that the internet in China was “fully opened.”

“As for what you can and cannot watch, watch what you can watch, and don’t watch what you cannot watch,” he said.

Before he was named the foreign minister, Mr. Qin served as Chinese ambassador to the United States. Previously, Mr. Qin served as one of China’s nine vice foreign ministers from 2018 to 2021. Since joining the foreign ministry in 1988, Mr. Qin has steadily risen from junior aide to the vice minister responsible for overseeing European affairs and protocol.

Mr. Qin worked directly with Mr. Xi while heading the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department. Mr. Qin has also accumulated experience accompanying Mr. Xi on his overseas trips since 2014.

Political Infighting

Yuan Hongbin, a veteran China politics analyst based in Australia, said he believes Qin’s sudden departure is the result of political infighting.

“It was Wang Yi who wanted to remove Qin Gang, because Qin had sidelined [foreign ministry spokesperson] Zhao Lijian and other allies of Wang since he took office,” Mr. Yuan told The Epoch Times on July 25.

Mr. Zhao was transferred to the foreign ministry’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs in January in a move largely viewed as a demotion.

Mr. Yuan said the major reshuffle of the foreign ministry signals that Mr. Xi’s grip on power isn’t unassailable.

“While Xi has removed his political rivals, Qin’s dismissal shows Xi can’t handle the political infighting within the Party,” he said.

“The power struggle between rival factions and interest groups within the CCP has reached an extremely serious situation. Some insiders say the Party is now divided.”

Luo Ya contributed to this report.
Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times, covering China's politics, international relationships, security, and society. Contact Dorothy at [email protected].
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