Shortly after removing missing Foreign Minister Qin Gang from office, China moved to wipe out his records, according to reports.
Background: Gang, 57, served as China’s ambassador to the U.S. from July 2021 until his promotion to minister of foreign affairs in December 2022. He was last seen in public on June 25 during a meeting with senior diplomats from Russia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Since his mysterious disappearance, Qin had missed several major events — most notably an annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting of foreign ministers in Jakarta, which traditionally includes Beijing. So far, China has only cited “health reasons” for his absence, leading to numerous speculations, including an alleged extramarital affair.
The latest: Qin was removed from his post, state media reported on Tuesday. He was replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi, who most recently served as head of the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs and attended the ASEAN meeting earlier this month.
Qin thus served for only 207 days, the shortest stint for a foreign minister in China’s history. Just an hour after his removal, the ministry reportedly scrubbed all of his records, including biographies, transcripts and press releases.
What observers are saying: Qin’s sudden disappearance, followed by his historic removal, raises only more questions for China, according to some observers. His replacement by his predecessor instead of the deputy minister also suggests that Beijing is more concerned with maintaining stability at this time.
“Qin’s removal will reinforce perceptions abroad that the Communist Party is an opaque and unreliable diplomatic partner … (and) do no favors for Beijing’s international efforts to portray its governance system as worthy of praise and emulation,” Neil Thomas, a fellow for Chinese Politics at Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis, told CNN.
Jeremy Paltiel, a political science professor and China expert at Carleton University in Ottawa, told NBC News that Beijing would have offered a “more expansive statement” if Qin’s disappearance was caused by health issues. “This is not a regular replacement: The timing is irregular, and the circumstances are irregular,” he said.
“The basic parameters of Beijing’s foreign policy are pretty well fixed, and so a single personnel change, especially Qin Gang’s, won’t adjust this trajectory,” Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told The New York Times. “Qin Gang is no Henry Kissinger.”
While Qin has been removed from the foreign ministry, he remains designated as state councilor. This post, as per NPR, is equivalent to a Cabinet-level position in the U.S.