China removes its outspoken foreign minister during a bumpy time in relations with the US

BEIJING (AP) — China removed its sometimes outspoken foreign minister on Tuesday and replaced him with his predecessor at an unusually scheduled meeting, a move that has fueled rumors about the personal lives and political rivalries of China’s Communist Party elite.

The step to remove Qin Gang after less than a year and replace him with Wang Yi doesn’t appear to signal any significant change in the hard-edged foreign policy adopted in recent years by leader Xi Jinping, who oversees the world’s second-largest economy — and a nation that is the primary U.S. rival for international influence. U.S. officials said as much about Qin’s departure after learning of the move.

In its announcement on the national evening news, state broadcaster CCTV gave no reason for Qin’s removal. Within minutes, all mentions and photos of him had been removed from the Foreign Ministry’s website. However, he was still referred to on the central government’s main site as a Cabinet-level state councilor, a possible sign that his political career wasn’t entirely over.

He had disappeared from public view almost a month ago, and the Foreign Ministry has provided no information about his status. That is in keeping with the ruling Communist Party’s standard approach to personnel matters within a highly opaque political system where the media and free speech are severely restricted. The party rarely reveals its process or its way of thinking when it makes a move such as this.

The ministry made no comment at its daily briefing on TuesdayThe move comes amid a foreign backlash against China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, of which Qin was a chief proponent. That now includes Chinese political and economic support for Russia in its war on Ukraine, the signing of a secretive security pact with the Solomon Islands that could give it a military foothold in the South Pacific and the rejection of demands for more information about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in China in late 2019.

Adding to the mystery around Qin’s removal: It was approved at an unusually scheduled meeting of the Standing Committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which normally gathers at the end of the month. That produced speculation about what might be going on behind the scenes — and whether it was related to Qin directly, policy overall or both.

By Associated Press

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