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Qin Gang case points to political discord in China

While love affairs are not enough to discredit CCP officials, involvement with a foreign intel organisation is viewed very seriously.

Qin Gang case points to political discord in China

MYSTERY: Qin Gang is no longer China’s Foreign Minister, but he still holds the rank of State Councillor. Reuters

Jayadeva Ranade

President, Centre for China Analysis & Strategy

THE decision taken by stern-faced members of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) at an emergency meeting on July 25 to replace Qin Gang as Foreign Minister with his predecessor Wang Yi was very unusual. The NPCSC, however, did not divest him of his rank of State Councillor, though it is empowered to do so. In an apparent bid to cover up signs of discord, the NPCSC resolution pointedly stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping had signed an order on the decision to replace Qin. Unless it is finally revealed that Qin is seriously unwell, the recent developments certainly point to instability in China’s political situation.

Pools of potential opposition to Xi have existed since around 2017, when he made known his intention to break with convention and continue for a third term in China’s top three posts. Dissatisfaction has simmered among senior and veteran cadres, Chinese entrepreneurs and businessmen, and unemployed graduates or those who haven’t got jobs commensurate with their qualifications. China’s slowing economy and low growth rates contributed to this and the stringent quarantine restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled popular anger. Other indicators show that resentment against Xi is building up.

Qin’s unexplained absence since June 25 and his ‘removal’ from the post of Foreign Minister is one instance of intra-party opposition to Xi. There is as yet no official report on Qin’s whereabouts or the reasons for his absence. By June 26, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website erased all references to Qin since March 2023, indicating that he might be placed under investigation. Mysteriously, though, all references to him on the official website were restored last weekend. Moreover, Qin retains his rank of State Councillor, which places him above a minister but below a Vice Premier and his actions as State Councillor remain listed on China’s official websites. His retaining the rank suggests that Xi has not yet abandoned Qin.

In case Qin is indeed placed under investigation in the next few weeks, it would undermine Xi’s position since he promoted Qin to prominent positions twice in the last two years. Bypassing other senior candidates, Qin was appointed China’s Ambassador to the US and, before he completed his term, as Foreign Minister. Xi had also approved his selection at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, as a member of the Central Committee (CC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) though he had not even been an Alternate Member of the CCP CC!

A love affair or even multiple affairs are by themselves not cause enough within the CCP to punish a cadre. A recent example is that of retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who was accused by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai of sexual assault in November 2021. Peng subsequently retracted her allegation. Speculation about Qin’s affair with Phoenix TV anchor Fu Xiaotian and her having been recruited by British intelligence also appears unfounded. However, an email allegedly sent by her on her journey back to China did suggest that she was under coercion by China’s Ministry of Public Security, but doubts persist whether it is linked to Qin.

Qin himself has a strong intel background. He served many years in the CCP’s International Liaison Department before being brought by Xi to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008. Qin did not graduate from China’s training academy for diplomats, the China Foreign Affairs University, but from Beijing’s University of International Relations, well-known for its affiliation with the CCP’s intelligence services. After graduation, Qin was assigned to the Beijing Diplomatic Services Bureau under the Ministry of State Security and later to work in the Beijing bureau of United Press International.

At the same time, reliable reports suggest that former Politburo Standing Committee member and former President Jiang Zemin’s aide Zeng Qinghong has been orchestrating opposition to Xi. The appearance of reports of Qin’s affair with Fu Xiaotian bear his imprint. While affairs are not enough to discredit CCP officials, involvement with a foreign intelligence organisation is viewed very seriously. This is especially so after Chongqing Public Security Chief Wang Lijun sought asylum in 2012 in the US Consulate General in Chengdu in a bid to avoid capture by China’s Ministry of Public Security. Former CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin and his aide Zeng Qinghong are known to have regretted agreeing to Xi’s appointment as Party Secretary of Shanghai and opposed him ever since.

However, one thing is certain: Xi will not go down without a fight. The fact that it took nearly 30 days to remove Qin as Foreign Minister suggests it was preceded by protracted and tough intra-party negotiations. Qin would have been targeted because he is an acknowledged protégé of Xi and China’s Foreign Minister is constantly in the public eye. For Qin to be removed from his position (State Councillor) now will certainly dent and undermine Xi’s authority. Other moves are visible in the economic sphere where, in a reversal of earlier policies, some concessions are being given to China’s private entrepreneurs and the tech sector. Xi has simultaneously begun shoring up his position. In a significant move, he promoted and appointed Wang Zhizhong as Deputy Minister of Public Security. Wang Zhizhong, along with Public Security Minister Wang Xiaohong, will be expected to closely monitor senior CCP cadres and weed out those whose loyalty is suspect.

#China #Congress

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