China’s Foreign Minister Abruptly Removed Following Month-long Absence

On Tuesday, Qin Gang, a 57-year-old former protégé of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was removed as China’s foreign minister after occupying the role for a mere seven months. The country’s top legislative body approved Qin’s ouster in a hastily arranged meeting.

Wang Yi — China’s foreign minister from 2013 to 2022 and Qin’s predecessor — has now returned to replace Qin. Qin’s tenure is the shortest of any Chinese foreign minister. 

Disappearance fuels rumours . . .

Qin was last spotted in public on June 25. China’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) initially chalked up his absence, including at ASEAN’s annual foreign ministers’ meeting from July 12-13 in Indonesia, to “health reasons.” But a week later, the MFA refused to comment when asked about Qin’s whereabouts, fuelling speculation around his disappearance. The MFA also scrubbed all mentions of Qin from its website. 

At Wednesday’s daily press conference, an MFA spokesperson declined to answer more than 20 questions about Qin. While health issues could be behind Qin’s dismissal, some commentators argue Qin’s removal amounts to a political purge, while others suggest Qin may have been “compromised by foreign intelligence services.” China’s MFA called the rumours “malicious hype.”

Wang juggles top jobs . . .

Qin’s fall from grace may be embarrassing for Xi, who reportedly handpicked Qin for foreign minister. Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper who now lives in the U.S., told CNN that, “Qin Gang was single-handedly pulled up the ranks by Xi. Any problems with him will reflect badly on Xi too.”

Wang Yi, China’s top-ranking diplomat, now wears two hats: foreign minister and director of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Office, which oversees the country’s foreign policy.

Mingjiang Li, a professor at Nanyang Technical University, told Lianhe Zaobao that Wang, as acting foreign minister, is an "authoritative, stabilizing character,” adding that the CCP will "need time to consider and pick a successor."