(CNN) — Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has not been seen in public for three weeks, an unusually long absence during a flurry of diplomatic activity in Beijing that has fueled intense speculation in a country known for political obscurity.
Qin, 57, a career diplomat and trusted aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping, was promoted to foreign minister in December after a brief stint as ambassador to the United States.
As Foreign Minister, Qin has strongly condemned Washington Relations hit a new low following the downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the US.
He played a key role in efforts by both sides to restore strained ties and restore communication, including meeting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during his visit to Beijing in mid-June.
In his last public appearance, A smiling kin was seen In Russia, Wagner walked next to Andrei Rudenko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, who had traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese officials after a brief uprising by a mercenary group.
“Given China’s status and influence in the world, it is very strange that its foreign minister has not appeared in public for more than 20 days,” said Deng Yuen, a former Communist Party newspaper editor who now lives in the United States.
Asked about Qin’s prolonged absence at a press conference on Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told him he had “no information to give”, adding that China’s diplomatic activities were carried out as usual.
Qin’s absence was made more conspicuous by the flurry of diplomatic activity in the Chinese capital in recent weeks, including high-profile visits by US officials Janet Yellen and John Kerry.
“Kin was due to meet EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell in Beijing earlier this month, but the meeting was delayed after China informed the EU that those dates were “no longer valid,” Reuters reported, citing an EU spokesman.
According to Reuters, the postponement was notified to the EU two days before Borrell’s arrival on July 5.
Qin also did not attend the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in Indonesia last week. Instead, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi attended the meeting instead.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a regular press conference on Tuesday that Qin would not be able to attend the ASEAN meeting for “health reasons,” according to Reuters.
But the official transcript of the conference, which was later published on the ministry’s website, did not contain that response. The Chinese Foreign Ministry often omits material it considers confidential from the transcripts of its regular briefings.
However, the brief health reason cited by authorities failed to stem a flurry of largely unfounded speculation about why Kin was not seen.
The rumors are fueled by a lack of transparency in China’s political system, where information is closely guarded and key decisions are often made behind closed doors, said Deng, a US-based analyst.
Under Xi, this political opacity has only intensified as he crushes opposition and concentrates power in his hands.
“This is the problem of authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes are inherently unstable because everything is decided only by the supreme leader,” he said.
“When something unusual happens to a senior official, people wonder if their relationship with the top leader has deteriorated or if it is a sign of political instability,” Deng said.
Senior Chinese officials have disappeared from public view in the past, revealing months later that they were being held for investigations by the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog. These sudden disappearances have become a common feature of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.
Adding to the sensitivity of Qin’s absence, according to Deng, are his close ties to Xi, who took power last fall in defiance of the Third Rule with a new leadership team packed with loyal allies.
“Qin Gang rose without any help from Ji. “Any problems with him will reflect badly on Xi, indicating that Xi has not picked the right person for the job,” Deng said.
— CNN’s Wayne Chang contributed to this report.