NEW DELHI: China’s foreign minister Qin Gang has been removed from his post and replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, the country’s legislature said on Tuesday, in a sudden move that’s likely to bring the focus back on the ruling Communist Party of China’s (CPC) opaque politics.
Qin, 57, has been replaced by Wang, who was China’s foreign minister for a decade until December, 2022.
Wang was promoted to the CPC’s elite politburo last October when President XI Jinping retained the general secretary’s post for a norm-breaking third time. Wang was also appointed director of the CPC’s foreign affairs commission.
Wang was in Johannesburg on Tuesday attending the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) meeting of national security advisors when the announcement was made.
The brief announcement on Qin’s removal and the reappointment of Wang was made by China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), on Tuesday after a day’s deliberation, officially to draft a criminal law amendment and to decide on “…official appointment and removal”.
“The meeting voted to remove Qin Gang from his concurrent post as Foreign Minister, appoint Wang Yi as Foreign Minister,” the 14th NPC standing committee said in the statement.
President Xi signed a presidential order to effectuate the decision, according to official news agency Xinhua.
While Qin has been sacked as the foreign minister, it is likely that he will continue as state councillor, which he was appointed in March, 2023, by the NPC. A state councillor’s position is a high-ranking one within China’s state council, the country’s cabinet.
The announcement of Qin’s removal or state media reports gave no reason for his removal but it comes a month after the high-profile minister, considered one of the first Chinese diplomats to embrace the typically Chinese “wolf warrior” or aggressive diplomacy, disappeared after videos of him and a well-known Chinese anchor appeared online.
Speculation over the reasons behind Qin’s disappearance was immediately censored on China’s closely-monitored social media but not before the chatter was picked up globally.
Qin was last seen on June 25 at a multilateral meeting with officials from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Russia in Beijing.
Earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Qin was unwell but gave no details when asked about the minister’s absence.
“State councillor and foreign minister Qin Gang is unable to attend this series of foreign ministers’ meetings due to health reasons,” Wang said at a daily briefing.
Rumours about his absence, which have been fuelled by the lack of explanation from the government, grew stronger after he was not seen during high-profile visits by senior US officials Janet Yellen and John Kerry.
The suave diplomat’s rise was considered by meteoric by China watchers as he quickly climbed the ladder of Chinese diplomacy from being the foreign ministry’s primary spokesperson to becoming Xi’s aide. Qin became a close Xi aide during his tenure as the director general of Chinese foreign ministry’s protocol department.
Qin was promoted as vice foreign minister in 2018 and held the post until he was posted as China’s ambassador to the US in 2021.
At 17 months, Qin’s tenure as China’s top diplomat in Washington was short and it came during deteriorating ties between two countries.
The unexpected shakeup within China’s foreign policy leadership comes at a time when Beijing is involved in global hotspot issues including in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, deteriorating ties with the US and stalled relations with India in the neighbourhood.
It’s not the first time that Chinese diplomats have abruptly disappeared from public life.
Xi, then vice-president, had also disappeared for about two weeks ahead of becoming CPC general secretary in 2012.
Xi was not seen at any public function for days in September 2012, fuelling intense speculation ahead of a once-in-a-decade CPC regime change.
Xi, of course, reappeared and has gone on to become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong but the mystery of his disappearance remains unexplained.
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