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Chinese Ex-Foreign Minister Disappears in Apparent Power Struggle
Chinese diplomacy to be more hardline against West after Qin Gang’s removal
Chinese foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States is likely to turn increasingly frigid under Wang Yi, who returned to replace Qin Gang this week as Chinese foreign minister after Qin’s mysterious month-long absence, a well-informed source told Asia Sentinel.
Wang, who held the post before being replaced by Qin, previously a fast-rising figure in President Xi Jinping’s government, has a reputation as a hardline “wolf warrior” against the West, the source said. Qin’s dismissal, complicated by rumors of an affair, is believed to be largely due to an internal power struggle between factions of the foreign ministry divided over policy toward the West, an uncharacteristic display of disarray at the top of the government.
On July 25, the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, removed Qin and replaced him with Wang as the new foreign minister, the NPC announced on the same day. Qin had been foreign minister for less than seven months. On July 28, Wang’s Chinese profile as foreign minister appeared on the foreign ministry’s website for the first time since Qin’s removal, and Wang’s English profile appeared on the ministry’s website on June 29. Qin’s profile as foreign minister has been deleted from the foreign ministry’s website.
“Qin Gang’s abrupt exit from such a steep upward trajectory is highly unusual in any system, including China,” said Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai Center for China of Yale Law School and former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, in his blog on July 27. “At a meeting with China’s new premier, Li Qiang, that I attended in Beijing in late March as part of the China Development Forum, Qin was seated prominently next to Premier Li. He was the only other senior official in that capacity. I and others present at this meeting took this as an important signal of Qin’s key role in the government’s push to reconnect with the foreign business community as part of China’s new efforts at ‘higher level reform and opening up.’”
During Wang’s first tenure as foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, he gained his wolf warrior reputation as a diplomat advancing China’s interests aggressively. In contrast, Qin favored improved relations with the US.
“As former ambassador to the United States, Qin had a special interest in the US-China relationship, noting privately to me in a brief exchange after that meeting in March that “a rebuilding of trust was essential” for conflict resolution,” Roach said in his blog. “He apparently made that same point in June as one of two senior officials who spent the most time with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his recent visit to Beijing—the other being Wang Yi, senior CCP diplomat and now also China’s new interim foreign minister. In other words, Qin was very special, clearly a man on the move in Chinese leadership circles.”
Qin adopted a stance towards Russia more in line with that of the US. In an interview with Phoenix Television, a Chinese state-owned broadcaster, on March 20, 2022, Qin, who was then Chinese ambassador to the US, said there was a “bottom line” to China’s cooperation with Russia, which was condemned by the US and European nations for invading Ukraine in February 2022. That was a departure from the “no-limits” friendship with Russia which the Chinese government earlier declared.
This interview of Qin was conducted by Fu Xiaotian, a female reporter of Phoenix Television. Social media has been ablaze with allegations that Qin had an affair with Fu and fathered a child with her. Fu is suspected to be a double agent allegedly linked to British intelligence, said the source who declined to be named. Another source said the same thing in an Asia Sentinel story on July 18.
“There are also scurrilous rumors being spread by well-placed diplomats that Fu is a British intelligence asset. It sounds improbable to me,” a British analyst who declined to be named told Asia Sentinel. However, on July 21, Bloomberg reported that UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly postponed his trip to Beijing scheduled for late July.
It is possible that Qin committed subversion, said a report in July of the Cercius Group, a Canadian geopolitical consulting firm. “Because of Fu Xiaotian’s high international profile – as she was able to meet with leading Western officials and live abroad for extended periods of time, some have suggested that she might have been compromised by a foreign government and possibly extracted information from Qin Gang while he was in Washington. Of course, following the new Anti-Espionage Law (which came into effect on July 1), the definition of who can be considered a spy and what comprises spying activities have been broadened to include non- traditional actors and activities.”
“In this case, the problem would not be the affair per se as the party rarely punishes cadres for extramarital improprieties. The CCDI (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, a Chinese anti-corruption agency) can, however, leverage these moral faults to dig into corruption or political subversion accusations. Hence, affair or not, illegitimate children or not, this would simply be insufficient to push Qin out while the world is watching,” said the Cercius report.
Qin’s alleged fathering of an illegitimate child can be ruled out as the reason for his dismissal, tweeted Bao Pu, who runs New Century Press which publishes books on Chinese politics, on July 27. There is “no way” the Chinese government would dismiss its foreign minister just for an extramarital affair, said Bao, a son of Bao Tong, the late secretary of the late Zhao Ziyang. In 1989, Bao senior was arrested with Zhao, the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, due to Zhao’s objection to the crackdown on the Tiananmen demonstration.
Bao junior hinted Qin’s downfall might be due to rebellion by alluding to the death of Lin Biao, the successor to Chinese leader Mao Zedong, in 1971. Lin rebelled against Mao and died in a plane crash during his attempt to flee the country in 1971.
Another possible scenario is that Qin fell victim to intra-party tensions, the Cercius report said. From the perspective of the main beneficiaries of Qin being incapacitated – namely Wang Yi, Xie Feng (the Chinese ambassador to the US), Wang Guangya and Yang Jiechi (a former foreign minister) – attacking Qin’s moral and political character to force Chinese President Xi Jinping to take down Qin and investigate the allegations against Qin is “Party politics 101,” the report added. “They basically played on Xi’s fear of traitors and two-faced cadres to make him second-guess Qin Gang.”
Wang Yi believed that while Qin was Chinese ambassador to the US from July 2021 to January 2023, Qin was to blame for what Wang perceived as China’s passivity to the US, said the Cercius report.
Probe of rocket generals
Qin was last seen on June 25, so he is believed to have disappeared on June 26. Lieutenant General Li Yuchao, the commander of China’s rocket force, was taken away for investigation around June 26, according to several reports. The disappearance of Qin and Li around the same time stirred speculation that their cases might possibly be connected. The rocket force includes China’s strategic nuclear missiles.
The South China Morning Post reported on July 28 that Li, as well as Liu Guangbin, the deputy commander of China’s rocket force, and Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong, a former deputy commander of the rocket force, are under investigation by the CCDI. The South China Morning Post article confirms Asia Sentinel’s story on July 18 that Li might be under investigation.