After President Joe Biden called Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, a “dictator” at a fundraising event last month, Beijing vehemently protested, accusing Biden’s remarks of being “extremely absurd,” “irresponsible,” and “an open political provocation.”
The mysterious “disappearance” of China’s top diplomat Qin Gang and his eventual removal, however, is the latest proof that Xi is a ruthless dictator.
Qin Gang was a rising star within the CCP. He was a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry from 2005 to 2010 and served as China’s ambassador to the United States between 2021 and 2022. He was one of China’s most vocal “wolf diplomats.” He was combative and antagonistic and willing to break diplomatic protocols and damage relationships to promote Beijing’s agenda and narratives. In one of his interviews with NPR, then-Ambassador Qin denied that the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims amounted to genocide.
Xi promoted Qin to minister of China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry seven months ago. Then this March, Qin was elevated to state councilor and joined the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Many suspected that Qin’s rapid promotion was a sign that he had the full backing of Xi and that Xi might be grooming Qin to be his successor.
Before Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his trip to China, Qin blamed the U.S. for the two nations’ worsening relationship and told Blinken to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.” One of Qin’s employees, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, warned, “The U.S. should not have the illusion of dealing with China from a position of strength.”
Five days after Biden called Xi a “dictator,” Qin mysteriously “disappeared” from the public eye, and all his scheduled diplomatic meetings and trips have been canceled since June 26. After being bombarded with questions about Qin’s whereabouts from foreign media, one of China’s Foreign Ministry spokesmen mentioned that Qin experienced “health issues” without elaborating on any details. Since then, the Chinese government has not answered any questions regarding Qin.
The Chinese government’s unwillingness to offer a credible explanation for the disappearance of its highest-ranked diplomat only fueled domestic and international rumor mills. An increasingly likely speculation promoted by longtime China watcher Bill Bishop and others is that Qin had an extramarital affair with a well-known female TV anchor, Fu Xiaotian, who is likely in the U.S. with the couple’s love child.
Qin’s political rivals probably laid bare the alleged affair to cast doubts on his loyalty to the party, especially to Xi. If this were the case, then Qin would be under house arrest or already in jail while an internal investigation occurs. We can be sure only one man is responsible for Qin’s disappearance: Xi himself.
Almost a month after Qin’s disappearance, the Chinese government announced this week that Qin was removed from his foreign minister position and that his former boss, Wang Yi, who was elevated to the powerful Politburo, the CCP’s decision-making body, would take over Qin’s title and responsibility. Sharp-eyed observers soon noticed that information related to Qin has been erased from the Foreign Ministry’s website. Twitter users jokingly referred to Qin Gang as “Qin Gone.”
Imagine if Blinken vanished for several weeks and the White House offered no explanation. Then suddenly, Biden appointed Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., to replace Blinken. The State Department’s website erased all photos and mentions of Blinken as if he were never there. That’s why Qin’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent removal have sent shockwaves through the international diplomatic community.
The CCP is known for secrecy and lack of transparency, especially in its decision-making process and personnel choices. Since its inception, the party has had a history of fierce power struggles. Losers, often along with their families, are usually eliminated in the most horrible ways.
Chairman Mao Zedong perfected this internal power struggle. He never hesitated to forcefully remove his lieutenants, including his hand-picked successors, when he felt someone got too close to his power center, or that he needed to make an example out of somebody to warn others. Several of his top generals were tortured to death during the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s heir-apparent, Lin Biao, and several of his family members were killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1972.
Xi is the most authoritarian leader China has had since Mao. Xi modeled his dictatorial rule after Mao’s: He adopted the Maoist cult of personality, having his books and portraits displayed beside Mao’s. Xi purged his rivals and became the chairman of everything through the so-called anti-corruption campaign. In 2017, Xi abolished the presidential term limit established by his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, and became China’s dictator for life.
Xi is especially fond of “disappearing” people, from well-known business tycoons to actresses, sports stars, human rights activists, religious believers, and government officials. Businessman Jack Ma, the founder of China’s most successful e-commerce company Alibaba, was allowed to “reappear” after he gave up control of his company. But former Interpol President Meng Hongwei was sentenced to more than a decade in prison after vanishing on a trip to China.
Through the “disappearing” and controlled “reappearing” of prominent figures and dissidents, Xi makes it clear he alone is in charge and will mercilessly eliminate any real or imagined threat. Everyone else is expendable, including the dictator’s once-closest lieutenants. Xi probably hasn’t realized (or maybe he doesn’t care) how much the secrecy and abruptness of Qin’s removal have damaged China’s international reputation and Chinese officials’ credibility.
One China watcher told the South China Morning Post: “If a vice-national-level leader can just disappear without much of an explanation, people find it difficult to trust and count on any Chinese leader or official and their positions. … [The incident] casts much uncertainty and confusion over the consistency, stability, and credibility of Beijing’s decision-making.”
The Qin saga will likely further erode investors’ confidence in China when China desperately needs foreign investment to rescue its faltering economy and stubbornly high youth unemployment rate.
The lesson for the Biden administration is that it must stop treating Xi as if he were a regular head of state. Biden was right to call Xi a dictator. When Biden administration officials visit China, they should stop bowing to Xi and his underlings and begging for cooperation on issues that matter little to Xi, such as climate change and the control of fentanyl exports.
A dictator who is cruel to his own people doesn’t care about our people’s well-being. He will not hesitate to harm America and our allies’ interests. The sooner the Biden administration recognizes the true nature of Xi and his regime and develops appropriate policy responses, the better we can protect ourselves and our allies.