China Replaces Qin Gang as Foreign Minister a Month After He Was Last Seen in Public

“Qin Gang was removed from the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs; Appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister,” said a terse news flash issued by the state media agency Xinhua.

New Delhi: A month after he was last seen in public, Qin Gang has been removed as foreign minister, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

In a news flash, Xinhua reported that the change in appointment was decided at the fourth Session of the Standing Committee of the Fourteenth National People’s Congress. 

“Qin Gang was removed from the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs; Appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister,” said the terse report. Wang Yi outranked Qin Gang after his promotion as director of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Office in January 2023.

The same new article also listed another major appointment for the post of the Central Bank Governor.

The last time that Qin was seen in public was on June 25, exactly a month ago, when he met with the foreign ministers of Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as well as the Russian deputy foreign minister. Since then, there has been speculation about his absence from the public eye.

The Chinese foreign ministry was forced to comment on Qin not travelling to Indonesia to attend the ASEAN and East Asia ministerial meetings. At the time, China had claimed that he had “health reasons”. Incidentally, the line was later taken out from the official transcript of the briefing. Qin also didn’t travel to the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting.

With Qin not in the picture, Wang had stepped in, travelling to all the major international meetings over the last month. Qin’s absence had led to some of his counterparts from other countries to postpone their visits to Beijing.

As foreign minister, Qin’s first foreign foray had been to New Delhi to attend the G-20 foreign ministers meeting in March. He had also come to India for the SCO foreign ministers meeting in Goa.

Wang is currently in Johannesburg to attend the meeting of the National Security Advisors of the BRICS summit.

Known to have been close to Chinese President Xi Jinping, there had been feverish speculation about the reason for Qin’s appearance, since he took over the post only this year. His career trajectory had been smooth till now, having been a foreign ministry spokesperson and appointed as the Chinese ambassador to the United States in 2021.

In the last couple of weeks, questions were repeatedly raised at the daily briefings of the Chinese foreign ministry about Qin. However, the only answer was they had no information to share.

With one of the speculation online being that Qin was sidelined over an alleged extramarital affair, the question was even raised during the media briefing. But, as usual, the foreign ministry spokesperson said that she didn’t have any information.

BBC reported that there had been a 5,000% surge in searches for Qin in China’s biggest search engine, Baidu, in a week.

It is not uncommon for high-profile Chinese personalities to ‘disappear’ for some time, presumably because they annoyed the establishment. This included industrialist Jack Ma and top tennis player Peng Shuai. However, Qin is certainly one of the highest-ranking officials to have been removed from the public sphere in recent times.

According to eminent China watcher, MIT’s M. Taylor Fraver, Wang Yi will now be the first foreign minister in more than two decades (since Qian Qichen) to be a member of the Politburo.

Dennis Wilder, a professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University, said that Wang Yi is the “safest choice possible”.

Who is Qin Gang?

Qin was one of the earliest Chinese diplomats to make sharp comments in defence of Beijing’s increasingly assertive foreign policy positions. Those remarks earned him the reputation as a “wolf warrior,” a nickname given to Chinese diplomats who respond vehemently to Western nations they perceive as hostile.

In 2020, he complained that China’s global image had worsened because Western media had never accepted the Chinese political system or its economic rise.

Qin rapidly rose within the Communist Party hierarchy over the past decade.

Analysts say the rise was due to his closeness with President Xi Jinping.

From 2014 to 2017, Qin worked as head of the foreign ministry’s diplomatic protocol department. During this stint, he had regular contact with Xi and organized the president’s foreign trips.

Qin was viewed as Xi’s protégé and appointed as a vice-minister of foreign affairs, a role he held between 2018 and 2021.

Afterward, he was sent to Washington as China’s ambassador to the United States, where he gained prominence through public and media appearances in which he stridently defended Chinese geopolitical positions.

Still, as ambassador, he was less confrontational than he had been previously in Beijing. In that role, he was charged with putting the relationship between the world’s two largest economies back on track.

(Inputs from DW were used in this article)

Note: Additional information was added to this article after it was published.