Disappeared ex-foreign minister Qin Gang ‘steps down’ as lawmaker

Fired defense minister Li Shangfu's name removed from ruling party's military arm, as state secrets law passes.
By Lee Heung Yeung for RFA Cantonese
Disappeared ex-foreign minister Qin Gang ‘steps down’ as lawmaker China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang (R) and Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko walk together as they meet in Beijing, June 25, 2023, the last day Qin was seen in public.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China via AFP

Former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who hasn't been seen in public in seven months, has "resigned" from his position as a parliamentary deputy ahead of the forthcoming National People's Congress in Beijing.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress announced on Tuesday that the Tianjin Municipal People’s Congress had "decided to accept" Qin's resignation as a delegate.

The announcement came as the name of China's missing former defense minister Li Shangfu was scrubbed from a list of top leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission published on the Defense Ministry’s official website, Caixin Global reported.

Li was fired from his post as defense minister on Oct. 24, 2023, with no explanation given. A number of senior leaders of the People's Liberation Army's Rocket Corps, including the head of China's nuclear arsenal, had also been fired by President Xi Jinping in July.

Qin, 57, has been absent from public view since he met with the foreign ministers of Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and with the Russian deputy foreign minister in Beijing on June 25, 2023.

But the government has yet to shed any light on his fate or his whereabouts, despite a storm of media and social media speculation.

Qin's disappearance came amid widespread and unconfirmed rumors that he was under investigation for having an affair with Phoenix TV reporter Fu Xiaotian.

Soon afterwards, his name was scrubbed from the foreign ministry’s web pages and archive of news releases.

A Xi Jinping favorite

Qin had been catapulted into the role of foreign minister as a Xi Jinping favorite and had only served for seven months, after making a name for himself as a "wolf warrior" diplomat.

His ouster — which was formalized with his resignation in January — came amid several other high-profile sackings of senior officials by Xi.

China's Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu salutes the audience before delivering a speech during the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore, June 4, 2023. (Roslan Rahman/AFP)
China's Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu salutes the audience before delivering a speech during the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore, June 4, 2023. (Roslan Rahman/AFP)

Xi replaced Li Yuchao as commander of the People's Liberation Army Rocket Corps — which controls the country's nuclear missiles — in July, as state media reported that Li and his former deputies Zhang Zhenzhong and Liu Guangbin had been placed under investigation by the Chinese Communist Party's disciplinary arm, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Li Shangfu was reportedly being investigated for corrupt procurement of military equipment after being out of the public eye since Aug. 29, along with several other senior officials from the Chinese military's procurement unit, media reports said at the time.

The sackings are believed to be part of a broader effort to reduce security vulnerabilities amid China’s increasing competition with the United States and its allies.

Xi on Tuesday also signed an executive order that will see the Law on Safeguarding State Secrets take effect from May 1.

The law was revised and adopted by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Feb. 27, 2024, according to announcements on official websites and media.

According to state broadcaster CCTV, the committee "recommended the implementation of a declassification period for personnel with access to confidential information who leave their posts."

All government departments and state-owned enterprises will be required under the law to "determine the confidentiality level" of state secrets they work with, and implement new rules about managing a "declassification" period for employees who leave their posts, including a travel ban.

"During the declassification period, personnel who have access to secrets are not allowed to work or leave the country ... nor are they allowed to disclose state secrets in any way," CCTV reported. 

Similar measures may be necessary to safeguard industrial secrets that could "cause certain adverse effects" if leaked, the report said.

'Deepens state powers'

In a Nov. 3 commentary on the draft law that was revealed in October, the China-Britain Business Council said the law "deepens state powers" and had sparked concerns among foreign businesses and individuals in China, particularly in the wake of raids of foreign consultancy firms Bain & Co. and Mintz Group earlier in 2023.

Chinese police take photographs during a raid on the office of Capvision, a consultancy firm, in Shanghai in 2023. (Image from CCTV via AP)
Chinese police take photographs during a raid on the office of Capvision, a consultancy firm, in Shanghai in 2023. (Image from CCTV via AP)

According to the October version of the draft law, state employees with access to state secrets will require permission before traveling abroad, including for a period of time after they leave the job or retire. during which time they may be barred from taking another job.

The National Administration of State Secret Protection will have expanded powers to investigate state secret-related cases, including the ability to check and confiscate files and devices, and to question staff, while tech products that are used to protect state secrets will be regularly checked.

"Some argue that terms in the law such as 'state secrets,' 'national security,' 'national interests' and even 'employees' remain poorly defined and could thus be interpreted by those enforcing the law," the China-Britain Business Council said, echoing similar concerns expressed by European business leaders about the Counterespionage Law, which was amended last year.

China's Ministry of State Security has said the criticism of both laws is unfounded.

The National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, is to convene its annual session in early March and is expected to focus on the country’s ailing economy.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.


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