China’s foreign minister Qin Gang was dramatically ousted on Tuesday after a prolonged absence from public view and replaced by his predecessor in a surprising and highly unusual shake-up of the country’s foreign policy leadership.
Qin, 57, a career diplomat and trusted aide of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, had only been appointed foreign minister in December after serving as China’s ambassador to Washington.
No reason has yet been given for Qin’s departure but his predecessor Wang Yi will now step back into the role, authorities confirmed.
Wang, who was foreign minister from 2013 to 2022, now serves as director of the foreign affairs arm of the ruling Communist Party, a position which makes him China’s top diplomat.
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee made the new foreign minister appointment on Tuesday in a meeting that was abruptly announced the day before, in a deviation from typically choreographed procedure.
The ouster comes in the middle of a busy and important diplomatic period for China following its emergence from pandemic isolation earlier this year and as Beijing tries to mend strained relationships with international partners.
Qin had played a key role in efforts by the US and China to restore communication, including meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 18 during the American diplomat’s visit to Beijing.
In his last public appearance, a smiling Qin was seen walking side by side with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, who flew to Beijing to meet with Chinese officials after a short-lived insurrection by the Wagner mercenary group in Russia.
Qin’s disappearance from China’s foreign affairs schedule had not been fully explained by the ministry, sparking intense speculation in a country known for its political opaqueness.