China has expelled Qin Gang from his foreign minister position, less than seven months after his appointment. Qin Gang, considered a close associate of President Xi Jinping, has been replaced by Wang Yi, a veteran Communist Party foreign affairs chief.

President Xi Jinping officially approved the change of Chinese foreign minister. Qin Gang was last seen in public on June 25 with his Sri Lankan counterpart. Since then, he has disappeared from the public eye. He was not seen during the US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen’s, visit to Beijing in July. He was also not seen during the subsequent China trip by the US climate envoy, John Kerry.

This disappearance only intensified speculations about his removal and what it could mean for China’s foreign policy.

Qin Gang was appointed to the position by his mentor, the Chinese president, in December. One of the significant diplomatic engagements during his tenure was a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing about a month ago. The meeting aimed to restore the diplomatic connection between the two countries after a period of tension.

Qin Gang’s scheduled meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, originally planned for 4 July, was postponed. No explanation was provided.

The official explanation given for Gang’s absence a month ago, when he failed to attend a summit in Indonesia, was attributed to unspecified health problems. No specific reason is cited for Qin Gang’s removal from the ministerial position. Whether his removal was due to internal politics, policy disagreements, health issues, or other reasons, it remains guesswork. Various speculations emerge, ranging from the possibility of Qin Gang being punished for political reasons to rumours of involvement in an extra-marital affair.

Wang Yi, a seasoned career diplomat fluent in Japanese, is returning to the foreign minister post, a position he previously held from 2013 to 2022. During Qin Gang’s unexplained absence, Wang Yi stood in for him. At present, he is attending a BRIC national security meeting in South Africa.

The appointment of the new foreign minister has put an end to weeks of confusion. The appointment of a 69-year-old foreign affairs veteran is perceived by observers as an effort to stabilise Chinese diplomacy amid uncertainty caused by Qin Gang’s sudden removal. Yi’s leadership is expected to provide continuity and reassurance for China’s foreign policy initiatives.

The Chinese Communist Party system employs a hierarchical structure, where foreign policy is formulated by high-level officials who then direct the foreign minister to implement it. China’s foreign minister position remains subject to its leadership’s influence and the complexities of its political landscape.