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Foreign minister missing in action in the opacity of China’s politics

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul18’23) – China’s foreign minister has been missing in action for the last more than three weeks and there is no word on what on earth has happened to him in a country known for its political opaqueness. The rumours and speculations range from the possibility of action being taken on his alleged extramarital affair to health reasons.

“There’s something everyone is talking about but can’t be talked about publicly,” Bloomberg News Jul 18 quoted Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of China’s official Global Times, as saying, writing on Weibo over the weekend, without referencing the missing minister’s situation.

“There needs to be a balance between keeping the operations running and respecting the public’s right to information.”

Qin Gang, 57, a career diplomat and trusted aide of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, was promoted to foreign minister in Dec 2022, after a brief stint as ambassador to the United States.

He rose to prominence as one of the aggressive “wolf warriors” who brought a new, antagonistic style to Chinese diplomacy in recent years. He had been tipped to take over in future from Wang Yi, as the top foreign affairs official in the Chinese Communist party, said theguardian.com Jul 18.

* * *

The high-profile diplomat has not been seen in public since Jun 25, after he met with officials from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Russia in Beijing.

When asked about Qin’s prolonged absence at a press briefing Monday (Jul 18), a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said she had “no information to provide,” adding that China’s diplomatic activities are being carried out as usual, noted the edition.cnn.com Jul 17.

When asked if the former US ambassador still occupied his post, spokeswoman Mao Ning referred reporters to the ministry’s website, where he is still listed as foreign minister, said the Bloomberg News report.

Earlier, as reported by Reuters, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a regular news briefing last Tuesday (Jul 11) that Qin could not attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Indonesia last week “because of health reasons.”

But that response was missing from the briefing’s official transcript posted later on the ministry’s website. The Chinese Foreign Ministry often leaves out content it deems sensitive from the transcripts of its regular briefings, said the edition.cnn.com report.

The report added that the brief health reason cited by authorities had failed to quell a groundswell of largely unsubstantiated speculation as to why Qin has not been seen.

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“Given China’s status and influence in the world, it’s indeed very strange that its foreign minister has not appeared in public for more than 20 days,” Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper who now lives in the US, has said.

These rumours are driven by a lack of transparency in the Chinese political system, in which information is closely guarded and important decisions are mostly made behind closed doors, Deng has said.

Under Xi, this political opacity has only intensified, as he cracks down on dissent and concentrates power in his own hands.

“This is a problem for totalitarian regimes. Totalitarian regimes are inherently unstable because everything is decided by the supreme leader alone,” he has said.

“If anything unusual happened to a senior official, people will wonder if their relations with the top leader have soured or whether it is a sign of political instability.”

Adding to the sensitivity of Qin’s absence is his perceived close ties to Xi, who secured a norm-breaking third term in power last autumn with a new leadership team stacked with loyal allies, Deng has noted.

“Qin Gang was single-handedly pulled up the ranks by Xi. Any problems with him will reflect badly on Xi too – implying that Xi failed to choose the right person for the job,” Deng has said.

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Senior Chinese officials had disappeared from public view in the past, only to be revealed months later by the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog that they had been detained for investigations. Such sudden disappearances have become a common feature in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

Adding grist to the speculations over Qin’s disappearance are rumours which emerged earlier this year on Chinese social media that Qin had engaged in an extramarital affair with a Chinese television personality. When asked about a Times of London report on those rumours Jul 17, Mao has said: “I’m unaware of what you said.”

China’s ruling Communist Party officially bans cadres from having extramarital relationships, and its discipline watchdog often cites such affairs when charging senior officials with corruption. However, former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli still appeared at last year’s leadership congress shortly after a scandal over a purported account of a decade-long affair (with a Chinese tennis star), said the Bloomberg News report.

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