Qin Gone! What Really Happened to the Foreign Minister
A careful look into latest epic elite CCP political mystery
Until yesterday, Qin Gang 秦刚 was serving as China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. But on Monday, July 24, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced an emergency meeting for the next day, July 25, during which Qin was “removed” 免职 (albeit not “dismissed” 撤职) from his position as China’s #2 diplomat.
To help decipher the madness of the past month, I have Matt Brazil, a senior China analyst at BluePath Labs, writer for SpyTalk, and fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. He appeared on ChinaTalk a few years back to discuss his book on Chinese espionage.
First, a disclaimer — these are fast-moving events. Matt and I discuss unverified rumors throughout this interview, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Matt is a thoughtful analyst, however, and not one to oversell things. So, he’s the right man for the job.
What we know and don’t know about l’affaire Qin;
How journalist Fu Xiaotian is wrapped up in all of this — and how those with CCP connections somehow end up with private jets and buy-ins to elite universities;
Qin’s possible connections to the Ministry of State Security — and why that might have rubbed his subordinates the wrong way;
How the CCP has dispensed with previous political elites, and whether Qin’s treatment bears resemble to them;
And why sometimes even the heads of CCP security don’t even know what’s going on!
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What We (Probably) Know So Far
Jordan Schneider: Let’s start with the facts. What do we actually know?
Matt Brazil: We know that exactly one month after Qin Gang had his last meeting in public, it was announced that he was no longer the Foreign Minister, and that Wang Yi 王毅 — the previous Foreign Minister who is also on the Politburo — is the Foreign Minister now.
That is very interesting, because it means that’s the first time somebody has been Foreign Minister and a Politburo member at the same time since Qian Qichen 钱其琛, from 1992 to 1998. That’s a clear difference in the power dynamic at the top in foreign affairs.
We also know that, in all likelihood, Qin Gang was having some sort of extramarital affair. He maybe even had a child with Fu Xiaotian 傅晓田, the Phoenix Television presenter, who had a high-flying interview program with Phoenix. She hasn’t been around since April 10.
Jordan Schneider: So Matt — bold and very spicy claim. What is your evidence for that?
Matt Brazil: Well, the evidence is tentative, and it comes from Fu Xiaotin’s social media.
On Twitter and on Instagram, she made it pretty clear that A) she has a baby, and B) the pregnancy began in February 2022, which she designated as a special day. In the same post on Instagram, she included a picture of Qin Gang. This led to her followers exclaiming, “Oh, you’re having Qin Gang’s baby.” And she didn’t deny it.
Of course, there were people both mocking and congratulating her for that and just observing that. The fact that she didn’t deny it and let those comments go on and on seems to indicate something.
That something, it seems, has become the cat that’s out of the bag — whatever cat that really is. Under those circumstances, the Party had to do something about it. That was in April when it all became more clear.
On April 10, she went back to China. She said didn’t say she was going to “face the music,” specifically — but she did say she was going back to the front line and made a series of cryptic comments that indicated that she was kind of in trouble.
So, that’s what we know.
Leaving on Qin’s Jet Plane?
Jordan Schneider: What’s the whole deal with the jet?
Matt Brazil: That’s another interesting wrinkle in all this — how much money she had.
How she had that money, God only knows.
She was renting a very expensive home in southern California, which Zillow rates at $15 million and goes for rent at $48,000 a month. She had given a big series of gifts that are undisclosed in their nature to Churchill College at Cambridge University, and had a garden named after her. And on the Churchill College website, you can see a picture of Fu with a shovel, along with someone else from Cambridge.
And then there’s this private jet. Who was piloting it and so on is uncertain — but she was living quite the lavish lifestyle.
That had to come from somewhere. And that may indicate all sorts of things, but there’s no way to verify at this point where the money came from.
Jordan Schneider: So, teasing this out for a second, how does a foreign minister have this much pocket money?
Matt Brazil: Well, how did Xi Jinping’s daughter go to Harvard? These are the questions of Chinese elite politics. It’s difficult to say, and only time will tell.
The apparent downfall of Qin Gang and his apparent questioning by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection may result in some revelations. But another part of this is that we do know that Qin Gang was fast-tracked by Xi Jinping through the bureaucracy to become a Vice Foreign Minister and then Foreign Minister.
We know that part of this is unconfirmed, but we know for certain that his first assignment out of college was to work for the Diplomatic Services Bureau in Beijing, which is essentially part of the foreign ministry.
But I’ve heard for over 30 years from reliable sources that it’s really controlled by the Ministry of State Security, for obvious reasons. DSB are the ones who provide personnel to foreign diplomatic missions in China and they’re the only ones who are allowed to do that. They have a monopoly.
John Tkacik, a former US diplomat now in Taipei, laid out the series of events in a recent SpyTalk article. He believes these events indicate that Qin Gang was, at least for a while, an MSS officer. I think that is yet to be, as you say, teased out.
Jordan Schneider: Does it matter if he used to be a spy?
Matt Brazil: He would be subject to more discipline if he had any connection with state security, because they have, I think, extremely high expectations of their officers.
When their officers have been convicted of malfeasance in the past — such as Ma Jian 马建, the former Vice Minister of MSS — the punishments are very severe. One aspect of this is whether Qin Gang was either active MSS or if he had a strong background in MSS and was promoted up to being Foreign Minister.
The simultaneous rise of the two would seem to indicate that the Ministry of State Security was being placed in a perhaps elevated position in relation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to people I’ve been speaking with lately — former government analysts and such — it used to be that MSS was in a disadvantageous position in the embassies overseas compared to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The rise of Chen Wenqing to higher power coincides with the clear priority of gathering more intelligence from potential adversary nations and getting as much technology as possible under the current adverse circumstances for buying technology overseas.
Under those circumstances — for example, with the foreign export controls — it seems as if there was some coordination in raising the status and power of the security apparatus.
Tales of the Innermost Parts
Jordan Schneider: What are some of the other rumors you’ve been hearing?
Matt Brazil: I’d say that the least credible — and I haven’t heard this anywhere else — would be that Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan 彭丽媛, is good friends with Qin Gang’s wife, and that Qing’s wife went to Liyuan and said, “You’ve got to do something about that man.” There could be something to that.
But I say it’s less credible because I’ve only heard it from one source, and I can’t find anything indicating that there’s anything to it. There’s no way to confirm it at all.
Then there’s an intelligence analyst working for an East Asian government who’s telling me that there are rumors that Qin Gang died in bed at the PLA 301 Hospital in Beijing. That could be true, too, because we haven’t heard from him. There’s been no pictures, no nothing, no Qin Gang in the dock at court or anything like that, which would still be to come.
But there’s no evidence there. It’s just people saying my old buddy in Beijing said this or that. Those are very interesting and may prove to be true, but they’re less than credible at the same time.
The information on Fu’s social media is somewhat credible. It’s only her saying these things. But her account of having a baby and hinting that it’s Qin Gang as the father fits, you could say, with the objective circumstances.
Jordan Schneider: It’s a weird thing to brag about because it could really get her in trouble.
Matt Brazil: It certainly could. There’s also speculation that Fu was an MSS asset of some sort. I say asset, not officer — a recruited agent.
It’s certainly true — according to more than one source I’ve spoken with who’s reliable — that Phoenix Television is not owned by MSS like the Diplomatic Services Bureau is, but it’s used by MSS to place people.
With Fu’s record of interviewing so many prominent people — including Ban Ki-moon and John Kerry and many others — she’d be a great target to recruit if you wanted to make sure you got all the information about who is related to who, who knows who, and so forth, which has been a favorite thing for MSS to do.
Jordan Schneider: Then you start to get into soap opera material … it doesn’t end well if it comes out to the world that you had a child out of wedlock with a senior CCP official.
Matt Brazil: That’s certainly true. The reason why I brought it up is that she doesn’t seem like an MSS officer who is disciplined and trained.
This is total conjecture now. If she were an asset, it’s not unusual for people who are recruited into the spying game to behave well for a while, and then they start to have regrets, and then they start to do weird things. It can be difficult to control them because they become frightened or they start to have big regrets.
There’s an interesting website called noir4usa.org that presents a theory of the recruited spy, of the inside trader. It doesn’t apply to China, but it’s a good set of human observations. The person who formulated this theory is a psychiatrist who’s interviewed a lot of former spies who turned against America and who are now in prison.
Bureaucratic Warfare by Other Means?
Jordan Schneider: Coming up our ladder of credibility: if it’s not Xi’s wife, then who else might be playing a role here?
We continue the conversation discussing:
Theories of bureaucratic backstabbing within the ministry of foreign affairs
The broader implications for Xi’s rule from this saga
Lessons from the Cultural Revolution in how to understand and interpret elite politics