State media said on Tuesday that Qin, who held the role for just seven months, will be replaced by his predecessor, Wang Yi. No reason was given for the move.
The mysterious absence of 57-year-old Qin, once seen as close to President Xi Jinping, had sparked widespread speculation. Officials had previously cited “health reasons”, without elaborating.
Here is what to know.
Who is Qin Gang?
Born in the northern city of Tianjin in 1966, Qin studied international politics at China’s prestigious University of International Relations in Beijing and entered the diplomatic service. He worked in several jobs at the foreign ministry as well as at the Chinese Embassy in Britain.
Qin was twice foreign ministry spokesman, between 2006 and 2014, and chief protocol officer between 2014 and 2018, overseeing many of Xi’s interactions with foreign leaders.
According to Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, Qin’s rise in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “rapid and meteoric”.
At the age of 57, he became in December 2022 one of the youngest officials to be named foreign minister, after serving as ambassador to the United States for two years.
“Qin managed to achieve in years what would have taken other officials decades,” Yu said from Beijing.
As ministry spokesman, he stood out for being one of the first diplomats to speak aggressively in defence of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, a style that became known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
But he also displayed willingness to work with the United States, declaring upon his arrival in Washington as ambassador in July 2021 that relations held “great opportunities and potential” although they did not markedly improve during his time as ambassador.
I am completing my duty as Chinese Ambassador to the United States. I came to assume office in 2021 at a time of severe challenges for China-US relations.
— Qin Gang 秦刚 (@AmbQinGang) January 3, 2023
Qin, who is married with one son, visited various countries after becoming foreign minister, including several in Africa and in Europe, where he pushed China’s call for a ceasefire in Ukraine.
In his first comments as foreign minister, Qin said in solving challenges common to all mankind, China’s diplomacy would offer “Chinese wisdom, Chinese initiatives and Chinese strength”.
One of China’s youngest-ever foreign ministers, Qin also ended his term as the country’s shortest-serving official to hold the post.
Who is Wang Yi?
Wang is the country’s top diplomat, outranking Qin in the government hierarchy as the head of China’s top foreign policy decision-making body.
The 69-year-old held the post of foreign minister for almost a decade from 2013 onward and also filled in for Qin during his absence over the past month.
Yu said Wang’s dual role is leading some analysts to believe that his appointment could be temporary until a new foreign minister is named.
“Wang is experienced, a familiar face and [someone who is seen as] a stabilising force at a time marked by a lot of upheaval,” she noted.
A fluent Japanese speaker, Wang previously served as China’s ambassador in Tokyo and head of China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office.
As head of the CCP Foreign Affairs Commission, Wang was seen as instrumental in brokering a surprise peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March this year.
What has happened in recent weeks?
Qin was last seen in public on June 25, when he held talks with counterparts from Russia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Since then, he has been conspicuously absent from his duties at a time of intense diplomatic activity for Beijing, including efforts to stabilise relations with Washington.
Qin had been scheduled to meet European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on July 4, but EU officials announced that China cancelled the talks without explanation with only a few days’ warning.
Qin then failed to attend closely-watched meetings with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US climate envoy John Kerry.
His ministry said on July 11 that he was unable to attend a meeting in Indonesia for unspecified “health reasons”. It declined any further comment on his status, creating an information vacuum in which rumours swirled.
During a meeting of foreign ministers at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta last week, China was represented by Wang.
What happened to Qin Gang?
No reason has been given for Qin’s dismissal, while his whereabouts remain unknown.
His removal was announced by state media saying that “China’s top legislature voted to appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister … as it convened a session on Tuesday. Qin Gang was removed from the post of foreign minister.”
Al Jazeera’s Yu said the mystery surrounding Qin’s whereabouts highlights the secretive nature of the Chinese government.
“It’s not uncommon for well-known personalities such as businesspeople or celebrities to temporarily disappear from the public eye after falling foul of authorities,” she said. “But for it to happen to such a powerful government figure is rare indeed.”
Why does the change matter?
Analysts say the sudden leadership shift at the foreign ministry is expected to cause disturbance in Beijing’s diplomatic ranks.
“This is a huge embarrassment for China,” Nicholas Bequelin, a senior fellow at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center, told Al Jazeera.
“Qin Gang, the foreign minister, is the public face of China with the world on the international stage and it’s hard to overstate the negative impact that this is having among diplomats around the world,” he said.
There will be limitless speculations on what’s behind this. Qin Gang was said to be a favorite of Xi Jinping 🇨🇳, then suddenly disappeared and was now suddenly dismissed. These things don’t happen without a reason. https://t.co/l7UrkMqnBR
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) July 25, 2023
Qin was also known as one of Xi’s most trusted advisers.
“Qin Gang was very much handpicked by Xi himself to leapfrog many more established candidates to become the foreign minister last year,” Neil Thomas, from the Asia Society Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“So he really is a captain’s pick, even more so than many other Xi allies in terms of the speed of their rise through the Communist Party ranks.”
Bequelin noted that it is Xi himself who has been driving the direction of China’s foreign policy, with Wang tasked with implementing the strategy.
“Qin Gang, as the foreign minister, is the one who sort of runs the day-to-day machinery. But that is nonetheless very important because diplomats rely on trust, on knowing each other, on the ability to reach out to each other. So it’s highly concerning when you have the foreign minister disappear for a month without a proper explanation,” he said.
Bequelin argued that the development “puts back in the mind of people that China is unpredictable – that at any point people can disappear, that you have no guarantee what comes on the next day”.
“I think that is the reminder that China is trying to avoid as it casts itself as a sort of very stable, trustworthy and reliable architect of the new world order that is supposed to come after the US-led one,” he said.