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Reviews | Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Wang has disappeared. The world still doesn't know why.

Reviews |  Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Wang has disappeared.  The world still doesn't know why.


For nearly eight months, diplomats around the world have been puzzled by the sudden disappearance and dismissal of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Chinese observers have shared much speculation, but Beijing has said nothing officially and even the CIA doesn't know for sure what happened.

Theories about Qin's fall from power have focused on his relationship with a Chinese television reporter named Fu Xiaotian. Qin, although married to another woman, was publicly linked to Fu after having a child with an unidentified father via an American surrogate in 2022, just before his return from his ambassadorial post in Washington. This created a storm on Chinese social networks. But is it enough to demolish the career of the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Qin was widely disgruntled among his colleagues because he had risen so quickly within the Foreign Ministry, according to U.S. officials. He was considered a pet of Chinese President Xi Jinping, for whom he had served as protocol chief, which angered his colleagues and led to what one U.S. official called a blood feud with his predecessor, Wang Yi, who now oversees all foreign policy. But this resentment does not explain his catastrophic fall either.

The most tantalizing theories involve speculation that Fu was an agent of a foreign intelligence service and that his espionage compromised Qin. An American diplomat told me he had heard that Qin was a Russian agent. No, said a former U.S. official with longstanding ties to Beijing, Chinese officials believe Fu served as a British agent for more than a decade. The spy stories are juicy, but I haven't been able to confirm them.

We are left with a mystery that underscores how opaque China's one-party state remains and how difficult it is for the CIA, arguably the world's premier intelligence service, to penetrate its walls of secrecy. We searched everywhere to find out what happened to Qin, but it's as if he disappeared, with his photo erased from the picture like in the Stalin era in the Soviet Union, a senior Biden administration official said which closely follows China.

We have no relevant information to offer, a Chinese embassy spokesperson said when asked about Qin's disappearance and the spying rumors. A CIA spokesperson also declined to comment. This is what a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office in London did.

Qin disappeared from public view on June 25, and he was officially dismissed from his post a month later. Curiously, on the day of his disappearance, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko traveled to Beijing for high-level talks.

Did Rudenko provide proof that Qin was compromised? This is the version reported by the former American official. It claims that Russia's Federal Security Service had previously warned China's Ministry of State Security that Fu was an agent of British intelligence. But the Security Ministry was reluctant to act against the foreign minister without solid evidence, the former US official said.

News articles have been speculating for months that Fu could have been a spy, and some have suggested that Britain might have recruited her. The Biden administration heard these rumors and pressured both the CIA and Britain without getting confirmation, the senior administration official said.

Whatever the trigger, Qin, 57, was arrested and investigated shortly after his disappearance in June, the senior administration official said. In the version told by the former US official, the foreign minister did not know of his lovers' alleged links to intelligence services and attempted suicide after being confronted with this information. According to this account, Qin was hospitalized in a special facility for senior Chinese military and political officials, known as Hospital 301. There is no independent confirmation of this.

Fu, 40, also disappeared and is almost certain to have been arrested and imprisoned. Like Qin, she enjoyed a meteoric rise, becoming a star host on state-controlled Phoenix TV. Speak with world leaders program until it was dropped in 2022. That year, Fu's son, named Er-Kin, was born to the surrogate mother in the United States.

Qin and Fu's ill-fated relationship began around 2010 in Britain, according to the Financial Times, while they were both working there. Fu, born in Chongqing city, received a master's degree from Churchill College, Cambridge in 2007 and joined the media company Phoenix. Qin served in London as a junior diplomat from 1995 to 1999 and was posted there a second time as minister-counsellor from 2010 to 2011, according to his official biography from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That's probably when he met Fu.

Qin rose quickly after returning to Beijing in 2011 from his second post in London, where he served as spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for three years, then, until 2017, director of protocol at the ministry, where he was responsible for organizing Xi's travels. As such, current and former U.S. officials say he developed close ties with the Chinese president.

This warm relationship was facilitated by Qin's wife, Lin Yan, who befriended Xi's wife Peng Liyuan. According to a senior administration official, Qin's wife prepared mooncakes for Xi's wife, almost as if she were a family member. Qin's intimacy with the Xi family likely helped him jump the normal promotion ladder in China and rise to the position of foreign minister at a relatively young age. This rapid rise sparked resentment among his ministry peers.

Qin's obsequiousness toward Xi was an affront to the rigid hierarchy cultivated by Foreign Ministry founder Zhou Enlai, said Christopher K. Johnson, a former senior CIA China analyst who now runs China Strategies Group. a political risk consulting firm. The resulting bickering left Chinese diplomats divided and distracted as Xi pushed for the Communist Party to usurp his ministry's role in setting foreign policy.

As Qin grew up, her alleged affair with Fu would have become problematic for any foreign intelligence service in contact with her. Spy services like to have well-placed agents, but not in places so visible that they cause controversy. The danger of recruiting agents who eventually rise to high positions was described to me by a CIA source decades ago as the prime minister's problem. But, again, there is no evidence that this is a problem for Qin.

Fu's position was delicate after Qin returned home in early 2023 to become foreign minister. She began posting references on Chinese and Western social media to her baby, which she described as precious little son Er-Kin in a Twitter post last April, as she was returning home for the last time from the United States to China. She had posted the previous month that the baby's father was not American, and around Qins, March 19, birthdayshe posted a birthday message to the anonymous father, according to the Financial Times.

A lingering mystery in this story may be the coincidence of senior Russian diplomats visiting Beijing on the same day the Chinese foreign minister disappeared. Whatever intelligence Rudenko might have provided, his most profound mission was probably to remind Xi of Russia's continued existence. The day before, renegade mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin had sent his private army to march on Moscow, momentarily shaking the Kremlin. Although Prigozhin's revolt was crushed and he died two months later in a mysterious plane crash, Putin reportedly wanted to quickly remind Xi that he was in control.

For me, the takeaway is that Russia is not the hapless junior partner it sometimes appears to be in its dealings with Beijing. Xi's China may have growing wealth and power, but Putin remains a master of intelligence and political manipulation. Putin is a case manager, observes the senior administration official.

The fall of the foreign minister and the TV star finally reminds us that even in a rigid, one-party state like China, political life can still depend on the very human weaknesses of individuals. And it is also a warning about the difficulty of piercing the curtain of secrecy that surrounds Chinese leaders.




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