China removes Qin Gang, names Wang Yi as new FM

Published July 26, 2023
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi has taken seat for talks with the Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister during a meeting in Budapest, Hungary, on February 20. — AFP
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi has taken seat for talks with the Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister during a meeting in Budapest, Hungary, on February 20. — AFP

BEIJING: China named Wang Yi, a veteran diplomat, its new foreign minister on Tuesday, removing former rising star Qin Gang after a mysterious one-month absence from his duties barely half a year into the job.

Qin’s successor Wang was also his predecessor, holding the post from 2013 to 2022. He has filled in for Qin during his absence.

He takes the foreign ministry post as China and the United States remain at odds over issues from Ukraine, Russia and Taiwan to trade and technology disputes.

“I think the main point here is China wants to avoid the embarrassment of continuously having Wang Yi appearing at foreign minister-level meetings without having the appropriate titles,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University.

Hours before being named as foreign minister, Wang Yi called for joint efforts to address global security challenges, Xinhua news age­ncy reported on Tuesday.

Wang made the remarks at a meeting of BRICS national security advisers in Johannesburg.

 Qin Gang
Qin Gang

BRICS is an acronym for five emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Wang, who is also director of the Office of the CPC Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, called for resisting external intervention and safeguarding political security.

 Wang Yi
Wang Yi

He highlighted the need to abide by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Cha­rter, respecting all countries’ legitimate security concerns and their right to choose their political systems and development paths.

Wang said efforts should be made to resolve disputes and differences through dialogue and consultation, while acts of “decoupling” and “double standards” should be opposed.

He also underlined common security and opposed zero-sum thinking and the Cold War mentality.

China is willing to work with its BRICS partners to carry out more practical cooperation in addressing international security challenges, Wang said.

At the BRICS meeting, member nations agreed to carry forward the bloc’s spirit, support multilateralism, oppose unilateral sanctions.

Qin mystery

Qin Gang, the sacked foreign minister, is a former aide to President Xi Jinping and envoy to the US. He took over the position in December, but has not been seen in public since June 25.

The ministry said he was off work for health reasons, but given no detail, sparking speculation and drawing attention to the secrecy often surrounding China’s leadership and decision-making.

Qin’s absence from a high-level Asean summit in Indonesia last month raised eyebrows, with Qin’s health given then as the reason.

However, that did little to stem an explosion of rumours online, some of which claimed Qin was under official investigation for an alleged affair with a prominent television anchor. State media did not report why Qin was removed from office and China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

“The lack of an explanation opens more questions than provides answers,” said Ja Ian Chong, associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore.

“Developments surrounding Qin suggest that no one is indispensable. It also underscores the opacity and unpredictability, even arbitrariness in the current political system.”

Qin was one of China’s youngest foreign ministers, enjoying a meteoric ascent that analysts partly attributed to his closeness to Xi. He was twice foreign ministry spokesman and chief protocol officer from 2014 to 2018, overseeing many of Xi’s contacts with foreign leaders.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2023

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