Speculations are mounting over the mysterious disappearance of China’s foreign minister as Beijing continues to remain tight-lipped on the matter.
What’s going on: China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang, 57, has not been seen in public since June 25. On that day, he reportedly met senior diplomats from Russia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Qin has since missed major events, including an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting of foreign ministers in Jakarta. Last week, he was scheduled to meet the European Union’s foreign policy chief, but Beijing canceled the meeting just days before.
What China is saying: So far, China has offered only one explanation for Qin’s prolonged absence. Ahead of the ASEAN meeting last week, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters that Qin would not make it due to “health reasons.”
While China is not part of the ASEAN, its foreign minister traditionally joins the annual meeting to represent Beijing on matters related to the region — this time, primarily its activities in the disputed South China Sea. Wang Yi, Qin’s predecessor and current head of the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, attended the two-day meeting instead.
Alleged extramarital affair: As Qin’s whereabouts remain unknown, rumors continue to swirl on the internet; among them is an allegation that Qin was having an affair with a prominent Hong Kong TV presenter. When asked by a reporter about the rumor, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday: “I’m unaware of what you said.”
The big picture: Sudden disappearances of Chinese officials, celebrities and businesspeople are relatively common in China. Typically, it is later reported that such individuals had been under investigation for a controversy or crime.
China, for its part, has typically sworn by secrecy in these situations. But at a time when diplomatic efforts are intensified, staying silent does not exactly paint a good picture of Beijing.
“[This episode] is embarrassing and unsettling to Chinese diplomats because of the uncertainty it injects in a system that is tightly controlled,” Daniel R. Russel, a former senior U.S. diplomat now at the Asia Society Policy Institute, told The New York Times. “For foreign diplomats it raises even more questions about the bureaucratic weight of China’s foreign ministry.”