Amidst a critical juncture in Beijing-Washington relations, speculations are swirling as China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, has not been seen in public for three weeks.
Known for his tough-talking diplomacy and often associated with President Xi Jinping, Qin’s sudden disappearance is raising eyebrows both in China and on the international stage.
Qin Gang, 57, is a prominent figure in China’s engagement with the world, having previously served as the Chinese ambassador to the United States before assuming his current role as foreign minister in December.
He gained recognition as an early proponent of China’s assertive approach, popularly termed “wolf warrior diplomacy.”
Recently, Qin has been conspicuously absent during several significant diplomatic events, including high-profile visits by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.
The lack of visibility has sparked concern, particularly given Qin’s expertise in Western affairs and the ongoing high-level meetings.
The last known public appearance of Qin was on June 25, in Beijing, where he met with counterparts from Russia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
Since then, there have been no official sightings of him. Moreover, a planned meeting between Qin and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was abruptly canceled on July 5, without any explanation provided.
Chinese authorities, usually tight-lipped about the whereabouts of public figures, have given little information regarding Qin’s situation.
A senior researcher at the Dutch think tank Clingendael Institute, Frans-Paul van der Putten, highlighted the opacity of China’s political system, stating, “It’s impossible to know why he has not been seen.”
The mystery surrounding Qin Gang’s absence deepened when his ministry’s spokesman, Wang Wenbin, cited “health reasons” for his non-attendance at a recent diplomatic gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia.
The Foreign Ministry, however, omitted this explanation from the official transcript of the briefing and has remained evasive in response to journalists’ inquiries about the foreign minister’s whereabouts.
The void of information has led to widespread speculation in both mainstream and social media, but concrete facts remain scarce.
Qin’s prominence as a foreign minister and state councilor within China’s political establishment adds weight to the intrigue surrounding his disappearance.
Qin Gang’s tenure as foreign minister has coincided with tumultuous phases in U.S.-China relations, characterized by extreme lows and partial recoveries.
Notably, tensions escalated over high-profile events, including then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a territory contested by China, and the shooting down of what the U.S. claimed was a Chinese spy balloon over its mainland.
While unexplained disappearances of high-profile figures are not uncommon in China, the lack of transparency in the country’s police and justice systems and the restriction of freedoms raise concerns about human rights and the rule of law.
Qin’s sudden absence also raises questions about the potential impact on China’s relations with the West.
As Frans-Paul van der Putten noted, “To be in office but to be absent is therefore very noticeable,” potentially affecting the tone of the West’s short-term relationship with China.
The global community remains on edge as the fate of Qin Gang remains uncertain.
Until there are official announcements or verifiable information, the world will anxiously await updates on the missing foreign minister, hoping for clarity and resolution in this enigmatic situation.
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