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China’s new Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and ousted Minister Qin Gang, right.
China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang was dramatically removed from the public eye on Tuesday and replaced by his predecessor in a surprise and highly unusual shakeup of the country’s foreign policy leadership.
The sudden move, approved by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the top decision-making body, comes as mystery swirls around the fate of Qin, who has not been seen in public for a month.
Qin, 57, a career diplomat and trusted aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping, was appointed foreign minister in December after serving as China’s ambassador to Washington.
No reason has yet been given for Qin’s departure, but officials have confirmed that his predecessor Wang Yi will now step back into the role.
Wang, who was foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, now serves as director of the ruling Communist Party’s foreign affairs division, making him China’s top diplomat.
The appointment of the new foreign minister took place during a meeting of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Tuesday. In a departure from usual precedent, Monday’s meeting was announced abruptly.
The sudden move comes in the middle of a busy and critical diplomatic period following China’s emergence from pandemic isolation earlier this year, as Beijing tries to mend strained ties with international partners.
The top diplomat has not been seen in public since June 25, after meeting officials from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Russia in Beijing.
In his last public appearance, a smiling Qin was seen walking with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, who traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese officials after a short-lived uprising by the Wagner mercenary group in Russia.
Qin’s disappearance from China’s foreign affairs schedule was not fully explained by the ministry, which briefly cited “health reasons” when he missed a diplomatic meeting earlier this month.
This caused an apparent disruption, with Wang Yi already having to step back from that role to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia earlier this month.
Wang attended a key meeting of security affairs representatives of the BRICS organization of developing economies this week in South Africa, ahead of next month’s leaders’ summit in Johannesburg.
Qin’s rapid rise to the post of foreign minister, and his appointment of more experienced candidates last year, surprised some observers of elite Chinese politics but was widely seen as a sign of Xi’s faith in diplomacy.
Adding to the intrigue of Qin’s ouster are his close ties to Xi, who defied a rule to take power for a third term last fall with a new leadership team packed with loyal allies.
“Kin Gang was single-handedly elevated through the ranks by Xi. Any problems with him would reflect badly on Xi — a sign that Xi failed to pick the right person for the job,” Deng Yuen, a former editor of the Communist Party newspaper who now lives in the United States, told CNN earlier this month.
“When something unusual happens to a senior official, people wonder if their relationship with the top leader has deteriorated or if it’s a sign of political instability,” Deng said.
Senior Chinese officials have disappeared from public view in the past, revealing months later that they were being held for questioning by the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog. Such sudden disappearances have become a common feature of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.