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Qin Gang, Foreign Minister of China delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Lanting Forum, held under the theme of Chinese Modernization and the World, at the Grand Halls, in Shanghai, on April 21, 2023. — AFP
Qin Gang, Foreign Minister of China delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Lanting Forum, held under the theme of “Chinese Modernization and the World”, at the Grand Halls, in Shanghai, on April 21, 2023. — AFP

China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang has been out of the picture for over a month now and his absence is giving rise to speculations about his official as well as physical well-being. Here’s wat observers are saying.

Qin Gang was appointed last December as a top diplomat of the country after he was serving as a Chinese ambassador to the US. In most of the recent official meetings and high-profile engagements, he was not seen including the foreign minister’s meeting of ASEAN.

Here are some details about the Chinese foreign minister:

Who is Qin Gang?

Qin Gang — a close aide of President Xi Jinping — was appointed foreign minister in December 2022, and spent several years at China’s London embassy. He is a fluent English speaker and earned a title of a “Wolf Warrior” — a nickname given to a new generation of Chinese diplomats who push back with often inflammatory rhetoric against Western criticism of Beijing.

Chinas Foreign Minister Qin Gang holds a copy of Chinas constitution during a press conference at the Media Center of the National Peoples Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 7, 2023. — AFP
China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang holds a copy of China’s constitution during a press conference at the Media Center of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing on March 7, 2023. — AFP

He said in 2020 the image of China in the West had deteriorated because Europeans and Americans — in particular the media — had never accepted the Chinese political system or its economic rise.

While serving as ambassador to the US, Qin stepped up his visibility through public and media appearances in Washington in which he explained the Chinese position.

He kept up a busy schedule after his appointment as minister, visiting Africa, Europe, and Central Asia as well as hosting foreign dignitaries in Beijing.

Where is Qin Gang?

Qin has not been seen in public since June 25, when he met Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing.

But it was his absence from a high-level ASEAN summit in Indonesia two weeks later that first raised concerns about him.

China’s foreign ministry said “health reasons” were to blame for Qin’s absence.

But that has done little to convince.

“Everyone is concerned about something but cannot discuss it publicly,” Hu Xijin, a prominent commentator with the Global Times, said in a post on Weibo.

“A balance needs to be struck between maintaining the situation and respecting the public´s right to know,” he said.

The foreign ministry has since deflected further questions about Qin´s absence.

Who is representing China?

Qin’s absence has left a vacuum at the top of China’s foreign ministry.

A visit by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Beijing was abruptly called off this month.

Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of Chinas Central Committee Wang Yi (center) walks after a group photo session during the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta on July 13, 2023. — AFP
Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee Wang Yi (center) walks after a group photo session during the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on July 13, 2023. — AFP

And Bloomberg reported on Friday that a visit by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was postponed due to Qin’s absence.

Top foreign policy official Wang Yi — who outranks Qin in China’s political hierarchy — has taken on some of his responsibilities in the meantime, travelling to Africa this week to attend a BRICS meeting on security affairs in Johannesburg.

Beijing insisted Monday that “China’s diplomatic activities are moving forward steadily”.

Asked about Qin’s now almost month-long absence, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told journalists: “I have no information to offer.”

But as the foreign ministry reaches a month without a visible boss, doubts will start to mount over how much it’s business as usual.

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