For weeks, Qin Qang, who had been appointed as China’s foreign minister in December, had not been seen in public.
Ahead of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier this month in Indonesia, China’s foreign ministry said the country’s top diplomat would not attend the gathering due to health reasons.
Now, some of the uncertainty has been cleared up. On Tuesday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Qin had been “removed from the post of foreign minister” and China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) had “voted to appoint Wang Yi” — his predecessor — as his replacement.
The NPC, officially described as China’s top legislative body, is, “to a large extent,” a “rubber stamp organization that votes on legislation or appointments that are decided elsewhere,” writes Harvard University’s Tony Saich. It provides automatic approval of decisions already made by China’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, and the Chinese Communist Party or CCP. (In China, the party takes precedence over the state.)
To some extent, the dust has settled. Qin is gone. But what remains unclear is why he was replaced. The rumor mill suggests sexual impropriety may have been the reason. But some observers, including Neil Thomas of Asia Society, speculate that Qin’s replacement is part of a “political purge.”
Competition within the CCP is fierce. Pavel Shukin, a former diplomat from Belarus, described Qin’s over-the-top preparations for a state visit to the eastern European country by Xi years ago. He said that Qin eventually explained his behavior to him, stating: “In Beijing, there are several hundred people rowing behind me for my position. So, if I don’t do this, someone else will.”
Qin is indeed replaceable. But what remains to be seen is what type of punishment will be meted out to him and whether other heads will roll. Is the sacking of Qin just about one man or something bigger?
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.