Is China sending a signal in replacing Qin Gang?

The change in the foreign ministry could be Xi Jinping’s way of acknowledging that he chose the wrong person for a very sensitive job.
Last Updated 27 July 2023, 05:02 IST

After a long month of speculation, the post of Chinese Foreign Minister has been again handed over to Wang Yi. The National People’s Congress (NPC) announced the official removal of Qin Gang after he was missing for the last month being last sighted at an event on June 25.

Qin had served as the ambassador to the United States in 2021 at a time when bilateral ties faced the most challenges. He was considered close to China’s President Xi Jinping, and was known for his aggressive foreign policy approach and the ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’. Fifty-seven-year-old Qin was one of the youngest leaders to be appointed China’s Foreign Minister.

Disappearance is not very uncommon in Chinese domestic politics. Even Xi was out of public eye for two weeks in 2012 before he became President. Public figures like Jack Ma had also vanished for a few weeks in 2021. Book shop owners from Hong Kong have vanished and resurfaced after a few months. In most of these cases, apart from Xi, those who resurface after ‘disappearing’ would have gained some insights into their behaviour and how they need to modify it to align with that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Such actions have been undertaken by the CCP consistently to bring major critics of its policies and authority in line. Qin’s case, yet again, underscores the opaqueness of the Chinese political system. It highlights that even high-ranking officials are not spared. The rumours of Qin’s bad health as well as extramarital affairs have not been proved. It also establishes the fact that even the top leadership of the party and government are on a tight leash with little room for wavering from the party line, or if they are seen as causing harm to Xi’s image.

The decision to appoint Wang seems too rushed, and an indication that the position is being handed over to a more experienced hand. Qin’s appointment had come as a surprise to several people and mistakes by him would reflect poorly on Xi’s choices. This also raises questions about Xi’s choice of people for the top posts, many of whom lack experience or are incapable.

This change in the foreign ministry comes at a time when Sino-US ties are facing a major challenge. China is opening to the world after lifting its zero COVID-19 policy and its economy is yet to get back on track especially now that the US has imposed new sanctions. These have affected Beijing’s global posturing and Xi’s positioning both globally and within China. The change in China’s foreign ministry could be Beijing’s effort to rehaul its foreign policy outlook and image. With the US consistent in its statements on Taiwan and India-US ties on the upswing, China could do with such a change. Adding to Beijing’s woes is the negative image China has generated with its support to Russia in the latter’s war against Ukraine.

The change could be Xi’s way of acknowledging that he chose the wrong person for a very sensitive job and the reappointment of Wang an indication of course correction; that he is looking at experience over aggressiveness. Is this a sign that Xi’s China might be abandoning its aggressive foreign policy, and a hint at China’s long term global agenda?

(Gunjan Singh is Assistant Professor, OP Jindal Global University)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH

(Published 27 July 2023, 05:02 IST)

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