China has removed Qin Gang from the post of foreign minister and replaced him with his predecessor, Wang Yi, according to state media.
“China’s top legislature voted to appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister … as it convened a session on Tuesday,” the Xinhua news agency reported. “Qin Gang was removed from the post of foreign minister.”
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The announcement came a month after Qin’s last public appearance.
During the national evening news, state broadcaster CCTV gave no reason for Qin’s removal.
Adding to the mystery around Qin’s removal, it was approved at a meeting of the Standing Committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which usually gathers at the end of the month.
A sudden disappearance from the public eye
The 57-year-old, who was made foreign minister in December, has not been seen in public since June 25, when he held talks with counterparts from Russia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Qin’s final appearance in state media was a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, who visited Beijing less than 48 hours after the Wagner mercenary group’s abortive rebellion against Moscow’s top military brass.
China then cancelled talks between Qin and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on July 4 without explanation.
Qin subsequently missed high-level meetings with United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US climate envoy John Kerry.
China’s foreign ministry later also said Qin could not attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta for “health reasons”.
His mysterious absence has fuelled speculation that Qin has fallen out of favour with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.
A rising star within the CCP
The Tianjin native has served in the Chinese government since the late 1980s, mostly in roles related to foreign affairs.
Qin was regarded as a close confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping and viewed as a rising star within the CCP.
His promotion over more experienced candidates, first to US ambassador and then foreign minister, was attributed to the trust placed in him by Xi directly.
A fluent English speaker, Qin was a visible presence in Washington through public and media appearances in which he defended the Chinese geopolitical position.
He also previously served as a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, where he gained a reputation for caustic responses to difficult questions from journalists.
In recent years, he was seen as exemplifying Beijing’s turn towards aggressive so-called “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
A number of high-profile figures in China have gone missing for prolonged periods without explanation in recent years.