Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has not been seen in public since June 25, as of Tuesday, missing critical engagements with American officials, a major regional summit, and fueling rumors of his political demise.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry refused to comment on his disappearance on Monday when asked. Prior to this week, the Foreign Ministry, through a spokesman, explained Qin’s absence at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit last week as necessary due to “physical reasons,” without elaborating. In addition to not being seen in public, Qin has also not issued any public statements since that day, nor has the Chinese Communist Party mentioned him participating in any official business.
The lack of information has resulted in a flurry of rumors ranging from a serious Wuhan coronavirus infection to an embarrassing extramarital affair with one of China’s top journalists. The latter rumor, first surfacing in Taiwanese media, appeared to gain ground on Monday as the Foreign Ministry allowed a question on it.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), a journalist from the Times of London asked for comment on the suggestions of an inappropriate romantic relationship between Qin and Fu Xiaotian, one of the most prominent interviewers on China’s Phoenix TV.
“I have no information to provide,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning reportedly said. Mao’s response appears in video of the press briefing, but the Chinese government omitted it from the official transcript of the event.
Qin is one of China’s most powerful diplomats – though subordinate to Wang Yi, his predecessor and the Politburo’s top foreign policy official – and ascended to the Foreign Ministry leadership in December. Qin served as ambassador to America prior to his return to Beijing, making high-profile appearances denying the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur people by his government and making flashy appearances at NBA games.
Tried my first throw at an NBA game @WashWizards. Also renewed our special relationship as Washington Wizards was the first NBA team to visit China in 1979 when our two countries established diplomatic relationship. pic.twitter.com/VCX7JncN7i
— Qin Gang 秦刚 (@AmbQinGang) December 28, 2022
Qin last appeared in meetings on June 25 alongside representatives from Sri Lanka, Russia, and Vietnam, according to the Foreign Ministry. On June 22, he sent an effusive message to the ASEAN celebrating the 20-year anniversary of China joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. A week prior, Qin met with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Beijing.
The Chinese government claimed that he could not participate in the ASEAN summit on June 11 as a result of unspecified health concerns. Beijing postponed a visit by European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell this month for unclear reasons – a visit that would have required Qin’s participation. Qin also missed meetings with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and White House climate envoy John Kerry. Wang Yi has replaced Qin on several occasions, including at ASEAN and with Kerry.
The Communist Party’s claims that Qin was battling health concerns prompted reports that he may have contracted the Wuhan coronavirus. The Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily, which is sympathetic to the Communist Party, claimed that Qin had suffered a significant coronavirus infection requiring half a month’s rest in a July 10 report, according to the Epoch Times. Sing Tao reportedly relied on the fact that the Foreign Ministry did not deny the coronavirus rumors as support for its claims.
As Qin’s absence grew longer, Taiwanese outlets began circulating an alternative theory: that the Chinese Communist Party was purging the foreign minister over his alleged affair with Phoenix TV host Fu Xiaotian. Qin’s family life is private, but the Foreign Ministry identifies him on his profile page as “married with a son.”
Fu interviewed Qin for her Phoenix TV program in March 2022. Their joint presence on the program is the extent of the confirm information regarding their relationship.
Social media users have compiled what they claim is evidence of a relationship between the two, however. On the list is a bizarre, effusive “happy birthday” post to no one in particular that Fu published on the Chinese government-controlled social media outlet Weibo. The post appeared on March 19, Qin Gang’s birthday, and is still visible on her Weibo page.
Fu has published posts sharing life with an infant son this year, with no clear indication of who the father is. On both Weibo and Twitter, in April, Fu posted a photo of flying aboard an airplane with her son. The post included an image that appears to be a screencap of her interview with Qin, describing it as her “very last interview” on her program Talk with World Leaders.
Last time flying alone with this aircraft was from LA to DC for a work visit, and that both happily and sadly turned to be the very last interview I did with Talk with World Leaders. This time to fly out with this aircraft was also from LA, but with precious baby son Er-Kin pic.twitter.com/C8izukrkzj
— Fu Xiaotian 傅曉田 (@xiaotianphoenix) April 10, 2023
The Epoch Times claimed that her son’s last name is “Qin,” but cited “netizens” without elaborating.
The Chinese Communist Party has a history of tolerating extramarital affairs when politically viable or when conducted by officials seen favorably by dictator Xi Jinping. In another high-profile disappearance, for example, tennis champion Peng Shuai accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her in late 2021. Peng disappeared shortly thereafter, then resurfaced denying that she ever accused Zhang of anything and even denying that she disappeared. Zhang appeared nearly a year later in the front row of the Communist Party Congress in October 2022, a prestigious position suggesting the scandal had not affected him.
That discrepancy had led to a third theory surrounding Qin’s disappearance: he had fallen out of favor with Xi, or with more powerful officials such as Wang Yi.
“If Qin Gang has no political trouble, it [the affair] will not matter since many high-rank [Communist Party] officials have those,” Yuan Hongbing told the Epoch Times. “But if Qin Gang is in political trouble, that is, if he has connections with high-ranking military officials who have been recently taken down, Xi Jinping won’t tolerate it. The affair then will be used as one of the pieces of evidence against him.”
Yuan shared rumors that Qin had come into conflict with Wang, though no evidence exists publicly for those claims, either.
Radio Free Asia noted in its report on the disappearance on Monday that online commenters had begun expressing frustration with the lack of information regarding Qin at all.
”The rumors are that he’s sick, but we’re all just reading tea leaves here because nobody really knows the truth,” YouTuber Jiang Taigong reportedly lamented last week. “We’ve only had vague comments from the Chinese Communist Party, so the guesses are coming thick and fast.”