Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister, has not appeared in public for more than three weeks. He had been involved with diplomatic efforts to repair relations with the US.
Qin, a follower of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and former ambassador to Washington DC, was expected to play an important role in the series of high-level visits by US officials. However, he was last seen on 25 June in Beijing attending a meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart.
He did not participate with Chinese officials in a discussion with the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, in early July, nor participated in the visit by climate envoy John Kerry.
For almost a year, after Nancy Pelosi, a US House speaker visited Taiwan in August 2022, all forms of high-level connections were revoked between China and the United States which make these visits to be of top priority.
Chinese officials, in early July, called off a planned visit of Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, without providing any sufficient reason behind the cancellation.
Last week, Qin was relieved from being the head of Beijing’s delegation to the ASEAN summit in Indonesia. Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the foreign ministry, stated that Qin would not attend “due to health reasons” and revealed no other details.
A week on and he has still not come out in public. Discussion about his absence has been removed from the Chinese social media site Weibo, that is, when searched “where is Qin Gang” on the platform “no results” appears.
The censors neglected or permitted only some of the comments. On Monday, a netizen wrote, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press conference was silent about Old Qin’s whereabouts except for health factors, which inevitably makes people suspicious.” Other comments were theories behind Qin’s absence.
Five sentences about Qin were written in a report addressing US-China relations by journalist and analyst Phil Cunningham and were edited out in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the pro-Beijing Hong Kong paper.
The deleted paragraph talked about the disappearance of a former ambassador from the political dome and raised doubts about whether it was ill health or “political disfavor”.
Cunningham tweeted, “Qin Gang is missing. Not only is he missing from the news cycle in China, but he’s missing from my article! As run by the SCMP on 15 July, five sentences about Qin were removed (without notice) from the article after it was accepted for publication.”
Qin Gang, aged 57, is known as an aggressive “wolf warrior” who introduced a new combative style of diplomacy in recent years. He was bolstered and supported by Xi Jinping, was set to beat Wang Yi in the future, and raised himself to become a prominent foreign affairs official in the Chinese Communist Party.
With the lack of transparency in the political system, it is difficult to identify the reason for the absence of senior officials. This is seen as a sign that the formerly powerful have run out of political support and will be seen in court.
Xi himself did not appear in public for two weeks before he was appointed China’s top leader in 2012, before coming out again in public to acquire the position he was tipped for. There is no proper reason behind the two-week disappearance.