Beijing dismisses Foreign Minister Chen Gang after a month of vague absence

Suddenly and exactly one month after his last public appearance, Beijing He fired Chen Gang, the Chinese foreign minister appointed at the end of December. Without giving any other clues about his whereabouts or personal status, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (China’s legislature) decided at a meeting he had called just a day earlier to dismiss the chancellor – until now considered to be under the protection of the president, Xi Jinping – and appoint the veteran Wang Yi, who has held the post for the past decade. The only explanation given by Beijing two weeks ago to justify his absence was “for health reasons”.

Wang, who has filled in for Chen on various occasions since his disappearance from the map, is currently the director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee, a position hierarchically higher than Chen in the People’s Republic’s complex hierarchy of power. Xinhua’s very brief memorandum on dismissal and appointment does not say whether the new minister will hold the two positions simultaneously. The Council’s statement is signed by the President of the People’s Republic.

Chen’s status remains a mystery. After more than 15 days without evidence on the foreign minister, the Chinese government on July 11 claimed “health reasons” to say that Qin Gang would not attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta (Indonesia), Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said in a routine appearance. Wang Yi went in his place.

It was the first and only time the matter was discussed publicly. There has been no further news since then of the 57-year-old former ambassador to the United States, known for his sharp words and responses to the matter. Wolf warrior, as China’s toughest diplomats are usually called. His status was not discussed, collected or questioned in the official media.

The coup comes at a time of diplomatic frenzy from Beijing. In recent weeks the capital of the People’s Republic He received important visits from senior US officials In an effort to stop the deterioration of relations between the two superpowers. Meanwhile, the uncertainty and lack of evidence about Chen fueled intense speculation — searches for his name multiplied in Chinese search engines — and forced the postponement of several important visits, such as those of the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

He was last seen in the line of duty on June 25th. He was dressed in a suit and looked good in the official photos. On that day, he met with the foreign ministers of Vietnam and Sri Lanka, and the deputy foreign minister of Russia. Not long ago, he gave the most important interview since taking office, by Anthony Blinken, The first US Secretary of State to travel to the country in five years. “The relationship between China and the United States is at its lowest point since its establishment,” Chen told his US counterpart.

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Chen was also present the next day at Blinken’s face-to-face meeting with Shi, seated to the left of the Chinese president, and behind Wang Yi in strict order. From these meetings, what appears to be a stage of understanding between Washington and Beijing was opened. Since then, they have been shown through the capital of the second economic power Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen In early July it is Special Envoy for Climateand John Kerry Centennial Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, last week. Chen was not present at any of these visits.

In the year 2023, the days of Chinese diplomacy continue at an exhausting pace. After the strict anti-epidemic measures ended in December and the country reopened in January, leaders from half the world traded in Beijing, from France’s Emmanuel Macron to Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, including Spaniard Pedro Sanchez.

With more than three decades serving China’s foreign ministry, Chen took office at that moment of reopening, against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and raw conflict with the United States. When he had been in office for just over a month, the alleged spy balloon crisis brought down by the United States broke out, dragging relations with Washington into a downward spiral. He had just returned from the US capital, where he had served as ambassador for nearly two years. In his first appearance before the press, after his appointment as minister, he warned the United States that if it did not hit the brakes “for sure” there would be “conflict and confrontation”.

Chen became a familiar face years ago His responses, often blunt, as a spokesman for foreign affairs. He strengthened relations with President Xi Jinping, accompanying him through the capitals of the world after his appointment as Director General of the Protocol. A senior member of a European government he met describes him as “tough and direct”. In 2008, at one of his spokesperson appearances—one of the few places where you can get a sense of what Beijing thinks on any topic—a journalist asked him what he thought of the latest album released by American rock group Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy. Chen replied: “As far as I know, not many people like this kind of music because it is too loud and noisy. On the other hand, you are a mature adult, right?”

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