BEIJING: China removed Foreign Minister Qin Gang from his post on Tuesday after a one-month absence from public duties, replacing him with his predecessor Wang Yi, state media said, after weeks of speculation about what had happened to him. Qin, 57, who only took up the job in December after a brief stint as an envoy to the United States, had not been seen in public since June 25 when he met visiting diplomats in Beijing.
After he missed an international diplomatic summit in Indonesia, his ministry later said he was off work for unspecified health reasons, but the lack of detailed information fuelled a swirl of speculation.
It also deepened suspicion about transparency and decision-making among the country’s cloistered leadership, analysts and diplomats said.
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Wang, 69, who filled in for Qin during his absence, retakes the role he held between 2018 and 2022.
China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment about reasons behind the switch.
It comes amid a flurry of international engagements and frayed ties with rival superpower the United States, which Beijing has described as at their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
The world’s two biggest economies are at odds over issues including Ukraine and Beijing’s close ties to Moscow, trade and technology disputes, and Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island which Beijing claims as its own.
Qin Gang, China’s FM who had meteoric rise and swift removal
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang was removed from his post after just seven months in the job on Tuesday, bringing an end to weeks of confusion after the 57-year-old — once seen as close to President Xi Jinping — disappeared from public view.
Qin became one of the country’s youngest foreign ministers on his appointment in December 2022 after a brief stint as U.S. ambassador, enjoying a meteoric rise to the top that analysts partly attributed to his closeness to Xi.
Born in the northern city of Tianjin in 1966, Qin studied International Politics at one of China’s most prestigious schools for aspiring diplomats, the University of International Relations in Beijing.
After graduating, Qin entered the diplomatic service, working in several jobs at the foreign ministry as well as postings at the Chinese Embassy in Britain.
Qin Gang was twice China’s foreign ministry spokesman
Qin Gang was twice foreign ministry spokesman, between 2006 and 2014, and chief protocol officer between 2014 and 2018, overseeing many of Xi’s interactions with foreign leaders.
As ministry spokesman, he stood out for being one of the first diplomats to speak aggressively in defence of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, a style that became known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
But he also displayed a willingness to work with the United States, declaring upon his arrival in Washington as ambassador in July 2021, after a period of unusual public vitriol between U.S. and Chinese officials, that relations held “great opportunities and potential”.
Relations between the two big powers did not markedly improve during his time as ambassador, or afterwards, however. The two sides have been often at odds over issues including trade, technology, and the self-ruled, democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims and Washington supports.
Qin, who analysts said was likely to have been appointed foreign minister to help stabilise relations with the U.S., held a 5-1/2 hour meeting and a dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June in talks that both sides called candid and constructive.
Qin Gang was not seen in public since June 25
A few days later, on June 25, he held talks with officials from Sri Lanka, Russia and Vietnam in Beijing but then began an unexplained public absence.
His ministry said on July 11 he was unable to attend a meeting in Indonesia for unspecified “health reasons”. It declined any further comment on his status, creating an information vacuum in which rumours swirled.
Wang, who was promoted to the politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, one of China’s top leadership bodies, filled in for him during his absence.
Qin, who is married with one son, visited various countries as foreign minister including several in Africa in January and in Europe in May where he pushed China’s call for a ceasefire in Ukraine, a tough sell given that China has been criticised for not condemning Russia’s invasion.
After becoming foreign minister, Qin’s comments on hot button issues such as Taiwan and China’s relations with Russia did not diverge in any significant way from those of his predecessor.
In his first comments as foreign minister, Qin said in solving challenges common to all mankind, China’s diplomacy would offer “Chinese wisdom, Chinese initiatives and Chinese strength”.
In an essay published in the American bi-monthly magazine The National Interest late last year, Qin gave an overview of China’s foreign policy and reiterated that China-U.S. relations were not a “zero-sum game” with one side gaining at the expense of the other.
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