China’s foreign minister Qin Gang was removed from office on Tuesday, state media reported, after not being seen in the public eye for a month.
His absence had sparked a storm of speculation that Qin, considered a confidant of President Xi Jinping, had fallen from grace or was subject to an official investigation.
“China’s top legislature voted to appoint Wang Yi as foreign minister… as it convened a session on Tuesday,” state media outlet Xinhua said.
“Qin Gang was removed from the post of foreign minister.”
The report did not give a reason for Qin’s removal but said Xi had signed a presidential order to enact the decision.
China has remained tight-lipped for weeks about the fate of Qin, who has not been seen in public since June 25 when he met Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing.
Asked repeatedly about Qin on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told journalists that she had “no information” to offer and insisted that “China’s diplomatic activities are steadily moving forward”.
The ministry had previously said “health reasons” were to blame for Qin’s absence.
But that did little to stem an explosion of rumours online, some of which claimed Qin was under official investigation for an alleged affair with a prominent television anchor.
Originally from the northeastern city of Tianjin, Qin frequently rubbed shoulders with Xi in an earlier role as chief of the foreign ministry’s protocol department.
His promotion over more experienced candidates, first to US ambassador and then foreign minister, was attributed to the trust placed in him by Xi directly.
Qin had replaced Wang as foreign minister in December last year.
A fluent English speaker, Qin was a visible presence in Washington through public and media appearances in which he defended the Chinese geopolitical position.
He also previously served as a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, where he gained a reputation for caustic responses to difficult questions from journalists.
Over the past month, many of Qin’s duties had been taken on by Wang, China’s top diplomat who leads the ruling Communist Party’s foreign policy and outranks Qin in the government hierarchy.
Even so, the absence had left a vacuum at the top of China’s foreign ministry.
A visit to Beijing by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was abruptly called off this month.
And Bloomberg reported on Friday that a visit by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was also postponed due to Qin’s situation.