In what is China’s biggest political scandal in years, foreign minister Qin Gang has been removed from office following a month-long absence from public life.
Qin, who assumed the role following the National Party Congress in November 2022, will be succeeded by Wang Yi. Wang is a veteran diplomat who previously served as foreign minister from 2013-2022 and notably was elected to the Politburo at 69 years old – above the typical retirement age for high-level Chinese officials of 68.
Qin Gang was last seen at a meeting with Sri Lankan, Russian, and Vietnamese officials in Beijing on 25 June. His disappearance sparked a flurry of questions online over his whereabouts and possible political transgressions. Mentions of Qin were later censored on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, where netizens had been speculating that his disappearance was related to an affair with the famous TV presenter Fu Xiaotian.
All mention of Qin Gang has also been removed from the government websites, and at a press conference on Wednesday the ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, deflected a barrage of questions about Qin from reporters saying she had no information.
A foreign ministry spokesperson had previously cited the minister’s poor health as the reason for his absence at the upcoming ASEAN meeting. Other rumoured reasons include a power struggle with Wang Yi, a blunder made during US Secretary of State Blinken’s visit shortly before his disappearance, or being compromised by foreign intelligence.
Hu Jintao, former general secretary of the Party, was mysteriously escorted out of the National Party Congress last year, with the moment captured on camera. The highly organised nature of the congress led commentators to believe that Hu had in some way fallen foul of Xi and the move was a deliberate attempt to undermine him. Purges are part of the political philosophy of the Chinese Communist Party and are especially favoured by Xi Jinping, who believes strongly in ideological purity.
Qin Gang has a reputation as one of the original “wolf warrior” diplomats, who champion a confrontational style in press conferences and represent China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy stance. Qin Gang is also a well-known Xi loyalist making his ousting particularly shocking. Adding to the confusion further, Qin is reportedly to continue serving on the State Council.