Wang Yi Replaces Qin Gang in Return as China's Foreign Minister

Wang Yi Replaces Qin Gang in Return as China's Foreign Minister
Qin Gang, former Foreign Minister of China

The Lede: On Tuesday, China reappointed its top diplomat Wang Yi as foreign minister, removing Qin Gang amid a mysterious month-long absence. Wang’s return as foreign minister comes amid a recent string of high-level meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials and upcoming summits where U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will likely meet.

What We Know:

  • After several weeks of uncertainty regarding the whereabouts and status of China’s foreign minister Qin Gang, the government announced on Tuesday that Wang Yi, the country’s top diplomat and previous foreign minister would be taking up the position again and replacing Qin. Wang will be holding both positions.
  • Chinese state media did not mention why Qin was removed and the Chinese government did not respond to requests for comments. A presidential order making the decision effective was signed by Xi. Qin’s presence on the foreign ministry’s website was removed and Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning avoided questions regarding the topic at the Wednesday press briefing. Those questions were also wiped from the transcript. There has been no further elaboration regarding Qin’s whereabouts.

The Background: Qin became China’s foreign minister in December. Previously, he served as the Chinese Ambassador to the United States and in other roles in China’s foreign ministry. As the spokesperson for the foreign ministry and chief protocol officer, Qin oversaw President Xi Jinping’s interactions with foreign leaders and spoke aggressively in favor of an assertive Chinese foreign policy, which became known as ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy. He was last seen in late June when he met with foreign diplomats in Beijing. The foreign ministry said he was off due to health reasons when he was absent for both the recent ASEAN meetings in Jakarta and the BRICS meetings of foreign ministers and national security advisers.

Likely Outcomes:

  • The replacement of Qin by Wang will likely do little to significantly change the tone of China’s foreign relations with the U.S. and its Western allies. However, as a mainstay foreign minister in the past decade, Wang’s return to the position offers an air of stability and a return to a past state of Chinese foreign policy as uncertainty and tensions have dominated the Indo-Pacific region in recent years.
  • All eyes will be on near-term meetings that will occur between high-level Chinese officials and their U.S. and Western counterparts. With Biden administration officials increasing such meetings and visits in recent months, there may be a willingness for a visit by Wang to Washington soon, an offer that had been extended by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Qin during their meeting in Beijing last month.


"The lack of an explanation opens more questions than provides answers. It also underscores the opacity and unpredictability, even arbitrariness in the current political system." – Ja Ian Chong, political scientist at the National University of Singapore

"With a series of major international meetings coming up, Xi defaulted to someone who has relationships with many of his foreign counterparts. In times of uncertainty, China wants continuity and predictability in this position." – Rorry Daniels, Managing Director of Asia Society Policy Institute

"The bigger story here is the sheer unpredictability and opacity of the Chinese system, which can see a top foreign policy official be thrown into a black hole for a month with absolutely zero information from Beijing. Simply put, there remains a dearth of seasoned Chinese diplomats that are both trusted by Xi and possess the requisite U.S. experience for this highly visible role." - Jude Blanchette, China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

“Qin Gang was single-handedly pulled up the ranks by Xi. Any problems with him will reflect badly on Xi too – implying that Xi failed to choose the right person for the job. If anything unusual happened to a senior official, people will wonder if their relations with the top leader have soured or whether it is a sign of political instability.” – Deng Yuwen, former editor of a Communist Party newspaper

“It’s China’s sovereign decision to decide who their foreign minister is… As we’ve said, it is important for us to manage this relationship responsibly.  That starts with diplomacy.  That starts with engaging.  And I will work with whoever the relevant Chinese counterpart is.” – Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State

Good Reads:

China replaces foreign minister Qin after mysterious absence (Reuters)

A familiar face for the US as China's Wang returns as foreign minister (Reuters)

China's Qin Gang had meteoric rise and swift removal (Reuters)