A month after China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang disappeared from public view, he’s out of a job. And few in Washington are likely to miss him.

The Chinese government said Tuesday that former foreign minister Wang Yi had replaced Qin amid mounting questions about his mysterious absence from any public official duties.

Qin — who served as Beijing’s ambassador to the U.S. for 15 months before he was promoted to foreign minister— had a reputation as a prickly interlocutor in Washington. And the Biden administration denied him meetings with high-level officials for long stretches, making his tenure in D.C. a difficult one.

The consensus in Washington was that “Qin had been particularly difficult and that he had not been very effective as ambassador,” said Zack Cooper, former assistant to the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism at the National Security Council. “It’s not like we’ve lost a critical piece of the U.S.-China puzzle — it might be that we’ve removed an impediment.”

Qin had not appeared in public since June 25, and speculation about his whereabouts — complete with the Twitter hashtag #WhereisQinGang — has flown thick and fast in recent weeks. Beijing has not provided an explanation for his disappearance and did not give any reason for Qin’s removal from his post Tuesday.

Qin’s departure is a reputational blow to Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping, who picked Qin for the role in 2022 over more senior diplomats. “This episode will be seen as an embarrassing lapse in judgment at the top,” said Daniel Russel, a former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration.

That lack of experience may have contributed to Qin’s difficulties as ambassador. Qin was “a classic by-the-book, by-the-script kind of guy who would parrot Xi Jinping and didn’t take time to develop relationships,” said Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has spoken with multiple members of the D.C. foreign policy establishment who met with Qin while he was in D.C.

In his first public speech in the U.S. as ambassador in September 2021, Qin excoriated U.S. “wrong beliefs” and cautioned against violating Beijing’s “red line” on Taiwan, on its claims to parts of the South China Sea or on its treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minority.

The Biden administration, whatever its thoughts on Qin Gang, had been working to foster a relationship with him in his new post. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Qin in Beijing last month and then invited him for follow-up meetings in Washington.

But Wang Yi’s return as foreign minister — he held the post from 2013 to 2023 — may ease concerns about turmoil in the foreign ministry. Wang is a known quantity in the State Department and has met in recent months with senior Biden administration officials including national security adviser Jake Sullivan and climate envoy John Kerry. Wang’s position as a member of China’s Politburo — one of two key Chinese Communist Party decision-making bodies — also gives him more influence in Beijing than Qin had.

Still, Wang also has a reputation for sharp elbows. Last month he sparked a furor for urging Japan and South Korea to develop an “Asian values”-based “strategic autonomy” from the U.S.

“I warn the Biden administration against placing too much hope in engagement with Chinese Communist party officials, for this shows that they can change the next day,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The White House was tight-lipped about Qin’s ouster. “This is an internal matter for the PRC, so we’ll leave it up to them to speak to speak to this change,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. The State Department also limited its comment on the apparent turmoil in China’s Foreign Ministry. “It is up to China to decide who their foreign minister is,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said on Tuesday.

Not everyone who knew Qin in Washington cheers his downfall. Qin “was a decadeslong student of the American system and it’s a loss for U.S.-China relations for someone with that level of expertise not to be playing a role,” corporate consultant Juleanna Glover said. Glover — who met Qin in 2021 at a dinner in D.C. at the home of Justin Smith, then-chief executive of Bloomberg Media — helped facilitate Qin’s introductions to Washington power brokers while he was ambassador as a route to pressure Qin for the release of imprisoned pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong.

Beijing is erasing any traces of Qin from the foreign ministry’s website. Qin’s official profile and photograph — still visible early on Tuesday morning — have since vanished along with links to his speeches and activities. In their place isan electronic “updating” message.

The mystery surrounding Qin’s disappearance and ouster may hint at more tumult to come in Xi’s government — given that Qin’s ties to Xi don’t appear to have been enough to protect him, said former U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus.

“The knives are out behind the curtain” in Beijing, Baucus said.

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