China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang has not been seen in public since June 25, 2023. He has not attended major diplomatic events, including key meetings with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during her Beijing visit. and with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the ASEAN, that both took place in early July.
Beijing has cited unspecific “health reasons” to explain Qin’s disappearance, and told the press to “wait and see” when asked about his whereabouts. Very few believe in the official explanation.
Qin, a former ambassador to the United States, was hand-picked by Chinese President Xi Jinping to sit in the Foreign Ministry position in December 2022.. This March, he was appointed State Councilor, becoming a key member of Xi’s cabinet, to direct the country’s diplomatic personnel and policy. While his photo with his minister title still appears on China’s foreign ministry website, rumours of his fate and whereabouts have spread like wildfire on domestic and overseas social media. Here are the main theories beyond his disappearance from the public eye:
Many have raised doubts about the official line according to which Qin is not seen publicly due to health problems, as Beijing did not provide any details that seem convincing considering this now amounts to a three-week sick leave. Moreover, when asked about Qin’s status, spokespersons from the Foreign Ministry could not hide their embarrassment. Bloomberg’s Beijing correspondent James Mayger described his exchange with Wang Wenbin on July 12 about the missing health explanation from the Foreign Ministry’s press conference record on Twitter:
I also asked why they had deleted the reference to Qin Gang's health from the “transcript” of yesterday's press conference and got an interesting response.
Ironically, this exchange is also missing from today's `press conference record.’ pic.twitter.com/0IWWDJgVvC
— James Mayger (@JDMayger) July 12, 2023
One week later, on July 17, when spokeswoman Mao Ning was asked for an update on Qin's status, she bid the reporter to check the Foreign Ministry’s Website:
7/17/2023 The CCP’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Mao Ning, played dumb to reporters’ questions about Foreign Minister Qin Gang, creating further doubts about his current whereabouts!#QinGang #CCP #MOFA #FreeMilesGuo #FreeYvetteWang #GuoHasTheGoods pic.twitter.com/YcvFsuzY4W
— Blue bird (@Bluebir54188696) July 20, 2023
Or extramarital affair with Phoenix TV reporter?
One of the most viral theories about Qin’s disappearance is his alleged extramarital affair with Phoenix TV reporter Fu Xiaotian.
A major cue behind such speculations is a tweet posted by Fu Xiaotian this April.
Last time flying alone with this aircraft was from LA to DC for a work visit, and that both happily and sadly turned to be the very last interview I did with Talk with World Leaders. This time to fly out with this aircraft was also from LA, but with precious baby son Er-Kin pic.twitter.com/C8izukrkzj
— Fu Xiaotian 傅曉田 (@xiaotianphoenix) April 10, 2023
The photo on the right-hand top is taken from Fu’s interview with Qin in March 2022. Fu never disclosed who is the father of her son. Soon after she updated Twitter and Weibo on April 11 about her return to China with her newborn, she vanished from all social media platforms.
Rumours about Fu and Qin’s extramarital affair were not censored on Weibo. Screen captures of the TV interview have swirled on Chinese social media. Many stories also dig into Fu Xiaotian’s private life, such as the fact that she could donate enough to Cambridge to set up a Xiaotian Fu garden in her thirties.
Or perhaps a corruption investigation?
The extramarital affair rumour has given rise to another guesswork about Qin being dragged into a corruption investigation because of Fu Xiaotian.
Regardless of her tie with Qin, Fu’s wealth is conspicuous. There have been many allegations on Chinese social media about Fu’s ties with former corrupted officials and Chinese Communist Party-affiliated billionaire Lai Leong, a Hong Kong tycoon in the China energy business – a highly sensitive and political sector.
When asked whether Qin was under investigation due to his tie with Fu Xiaotian on July 17, Mao Ning did not deny it but stated that she had no concrete details about the situation.
As the latest announcement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry indicated that instead of Qin, Wang Yi – the Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CCP – would attend the upcoming BRICS National Security Advisers’ meeting from 24-25 July, the media still have to “wait and see”to find out morte about Qin’s whereabouts.
Could it be a power struggle?
Whenever unanswered riddles surface in Chinese politics, internal power struggle conspiracy theory is often brought up as an explanation. Since Qin was hand-picked by Xi Jinping to head the diplomatic front, the first symbolic action he took was to reshuffle positions in the Foreign Ministry. One of his most discussed moves was the removal of notorious wolf warrior Zhao Lijian from the Foreign Ministry. Zhao, who is remembered for picking fights with journalists on Twitter, was reassigned to work in the Boundary and Ocean Affairs Department.
For more on ‘Wolf Warrior’, read Chinese netizens rebrand X Jinping's international relations strategy as ‘wolf warrior’ style diplomacy
Now that diplomatic hardliner Wang Yi has returned to the stage, Chinese exiled writer and observer of Chinese politics Hu Ping believes that Qin’s disappearance could be the result of an internal struggle from within the party’s diplomatic branch:
This incident is likely the result of a CCP’s internal struggle. The viral online content about Qin Gang doesn't look like it came from foreign journalists or ordinary citizens. Those who leaked the information are not satisfied with Xi Jinping's actions. This is why until now, Qin Gang has not been dealt with, because Xi Jinping is in a dilemma, in a conundrum… I don’t think Qin Gang can resume his position. If Xi were able to protect him, there wouldn’t be space for the conspiracy to spread like this. Rather, Qin Gang will disappear from public positions for good, and Xi is unhappy about that.
As the time of publication, the mystery around Qin remains but one thing is clear: Chinese political life remains as opaque as it has been, and Xi's style of management of crises echoes Mao's practice of not allowing any transparency and denying any internal struggle.