The sudden removal of Foreign Minister Qin Gang sparks a global frenzy of speculation and a host of unconfirmed reports in the media.
China’s now-former Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, was removed from his post, as announced by various Chinese news websites on 25th July. Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister before, was reinstated to the post. No official reasons were given for Qin’s removal. Before his eviction, Mr. Qin mysteriously disappeared from the public eye. He made his last appearance on June 25th, having concluded his meetings with the Russian, Vietnamese, and Sri Lankan foreign ministers. During that time, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, announced on July 11th that he was suffering from health issues.
The disappearance and later removal sent down shockwaves around the world. However, Taiwanese and Western news channels engaged in rumor-mongering based on unverified rumors on Chinese social media. They speculated about Mr Qin’s extra-marital affair saying Xi Jinping had forcefully ousted him, as he faced the possibility of getting locked up or executed.
One of the most widespread rumors was that Mr. Qin was involved in an affair with a Chinese television personality Fu Xiaotian. The news was picked up in the Western sphere by prominent newspapers, such as the Times. Based on the rumors going around Chinese social media, the UK news outlet, Daily Mail, mentioned the “affectionate flirting” between journalist Fu and Mr Qin in an interview dated March 2022. Fu’s “flirtatious interview technique” when conversing with politicians became the talk of the matter. The newspaper implied that Fu gave birth to a child in November of that year, which might be Qin’s.
Another British newspaper, The Spectator, alleged that “Qin might have been compromised in some way – even that the alleged mistress was a double agent.” Not yet confirmed, this rumor was not only against Mr. Qin but also against Ms. Fu, questioning her professional conduct.
An additional rumor, not necessarily related to Mr. Qin’s disappearance but to Mr. Qin’s background, was based on a report in Taipei Times by John J. Tkacik, Jr. He alleged that Mr. Qin had graduated from the University of International Relations (UIR), the “Centre for the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) intelligence services.” He further claimed that China’s foreign ministry was not run by diplomats but by intelligence officers. It is not too difficult for conspiracy theorists to connect Mr. Qin’s supposed UIR education to his alleged current involvement in espionage. However, the source of the author’s research in the above story is not provided, and we know it is conjecture at this point.
The gossip continued after the announcement of Mr. Qin’s removal from his post. One report by the American Spectator alleged that “the CCP is run like a mafia organization. For the CCP, the internal, cutting-throat power struggle is most important for all officials.” This is a mere exaggeration of how the CPC functions. It also said, “While the people in the democratic world think the vanishing of a country’s foreign minister is serious and humiliating, the CCP itself does not care about how we think about it.” There is hardly any evidence to support the claim that the CPC does not care about its international image. Its various initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and providing infrastructure funding to several third-world countries, say that China does care about its image. The report further said, “Qin may appear as a CCP official if Xi wants him to permanently disappear without an explanation or be denounced and sentenced to jail.” The report finally claimed Xi might use the “Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to do the dirty work of locking Qin up.”
The Federalist, a conservative US magazine, alleged that only one man was responsible for Mr Qin’s removal: Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. The account is exaggerated, saying, “Through the “disappearing” and controlled “reappearing” of prominent figures and dissidents, Xi makes it clear he alone is in charge and will mercilessly eliminate any real or imagined threat.” However, both examples above are oversimplified justifications of the whole matter, again with no substantial proof, shrouding the issue in further mystery. The above instances show how news websites unethically departed from facts and reported based on rumors. This is not the first instance of rumors and gossip taking Western media by storm. President Xi Jinping disappeared from the public eye in September last year after returning from a regional conference in Uzbekistan. Speculations of a silent coup against him went around the media. However, Mr. Xi reappeared after a week, restating the rumors.
Nonetheless, the abrupt disappearance and removal of Qin Gang from his post are abnormal, despite the rumors. It is highly unusual that extra-marital affairs play a role in such a top-level minister getting fired. And if the minister were involved in corruption-related matters, it would have been highlighted in the Chinese media. The CPC under the Xi government has taken pride in the intricate investigation and exposing of corrupt party officials. It shows that something deeper went into the minister’s removal.
Qin had risen through the ranks quickly over the years. A Xi favorite, Qin was appointed foreign minister at the end of 2022 at only 56. He was among the youngest to be elected for the post in CPC history. He succeeded Wang, beating off other more experienced competitors who were all qualified candidates. Always having been part of diplomatic affairs, he quickly rose through the CPC ranks, as he was appointed vice-minister of foreign affairs from 2018 to 2021. After that, he served a 17-month stint as the ambassador to the US.
High-ranking Party officials from different political factions, such as the Communist Youth League and the Shanghai Gang, were sidelined under Xi. Mr. Qin was one of the supporters who formed Xi Jinping’s powerful political inner circle as he began his extraordinary third term as president of China. In a report by the Washington Times, an unnamed US senior official had said that Mr. Qin was ‘disliked’ by the foreign ministry due to his quick promotions as he had a personal relationship with Xi. We cannot be sure how much truth there is to this claim.
If he was such a favored candidate of Xi Jinping, the reasons for Mr. Qin’s sudden removal only cause doubts. This comes as Xi’s style of governance as it becomes more unforeseeable. What makes the fiasco stranger is that Mr. Qin has not been weeded out. He still retains his seat in the State Council. We can guess that Mr. Qin’s inexperience might have affected his being ousted. It might not be a coincidence that Mr. Qin disappeared just before a few high-profile meetings with US politicians. These included meetings with Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary, State Secretary Antony Blinken, and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, which were all handled by Wang Yi. The return of Mr. Wang also suggests that the CPC wanted an official more experienced to handle foreign affairs, especially when Sino-US relations are at such a tumultuous stage. This reshuffle indicates that Xi Jinping wants his loyalists to hold top portfolios, however, not at the cost of their expertise.
It is highly immoral for Taiwanese and Western media to report sensationalizing the issue by bringing inaccurate news from dubious sources. In this case, the press used numerous devices at its disposal, from extra-marital affairs to secret spy stories, which influenced ordinary people’s judgment as these stories had a sense of suspense and thrill. The more profound effects of spreading disinformation, primarily based on social media rumors, might have the power of swaying public opinion adversely on essential matters. Media houses should have paid more attention to actual factors as to why the whole incident might have taken place rather than relying on salacious hearsay to report the news.
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