China’s outspoken foreign minister – who has not been seen publicly for a month – has been removed from office and replaced by his predecessor.
Chinese state media gave no reason for Qin Gang’s removal but it comes after speculation over his personal affairs and political rivalries.
The foreign ministry has provided no information about Mr Qin’s status, in keeping with the ruling Communist Party’s standard approach to personnel matters.
He has been replaced by Wang Yi amid a foreign backlash against China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy.
Mr Qin was a chief proponent of the policy.
He was last seen in public on 25 June in Beijing after meeting with officials from Sri Lanka, Russia and Vietnam.
Questions about his whereabouts began to intensify this month when he did not attend the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathering of foreign ministers in Indonesia.
The Chinese foreign ministry had said Mr Qin would miss the event because of an unspecified health issue.
The ministry has since then avoided answering repeated questions about his status, saying only that China’s diplomacy is progressing steadily.
Mr Qin had actively participated in diplomatic events before he went missing.
However, following his meeting in Beijing with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 18 June, he was absent during visits by other top US officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US climate envoy John Kerry this month.
It was Mr Wang who met with Mr Blinken at the ASEAN event in Indonesia this month.
The Eurasia Group, a consulting firm based in New York, said in a note ahead of Mr Qin’s removal said: “Qin’s disappearance has curtailed China’s diplomatic activity over the last month but will have little impact on the country’s foreign policy or present meaningful reputational risks for Xi.”
The appointment of Mr Wang was approved at a meeting of the standing committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which usually gathers at the end of the month.
Mr Wang previously served as China’s top diplomat in his capacity as head of the party’s office of foreign affairs.