By Simone McCarthy and Alex Stambaugh, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN) — China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday declined to address a report its former foreign minister Qin Gang was ousted from his position over an alleged extramarital affair.
Earlier that day, the Wall Street Journal reported that Qin, who was abruptly removed from his position this summer, was found by a Communist Party investigation to have been engaged in an extramarital affair while serving as China’s envoy to Washington, citing people familiar with the matter.
Qin, a career diplomat and trusted aide of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, was replaced without explanation in July after only seven months in the role in a highly unusual shake-up of the country’s foreign policy leadership.
The sudden move, approved by the top decision-making body of China’s rubber-stamp parliament on July 25, followed weeks of speculation and rumor about the fate of Qin, who had been absent from public view over the month prior.
His removal has since been followed by other high-level personnel shake-ups in China’s military Rocket Force, as well as on-going questions about the status of China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has now been absent from public view for more than two weeks.
Beijing has never issued an explanation for Qin’s removal nor said that the former minister was under investigation.
Prior to his ouster, the Foreign Ministry in July briefly cited “health reasons” when Qin missed a diplomatic gathering, but that response was later missing from an official briefing transcript and when asked about it, a spokesperson said she had “no information to provide.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, senior Chinese officials were briefed last month on the Communist Party’s investigation into Qin and were told that the formal reason for Qin’s dismissal was “lifestyle issues,” a term commonly used to refer to sexual misconduct, people familiar with the matter said.
The officials were told that the investigation found that Qin had “engaged in an extramarital affair that led to the birth of a child in the US,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two people. The names of the woman and child were not disclosed to officials, the report said.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an investigation is still underway and Qin is cooperating. According to the sources, the probe is looking into whether the alleged affair and any other actions Qin might have taken, could have affected China’s national security, the report said.
CNN has not been able to independently verify the reporting. CNN has reached out to China’s State Council Information Office, which handles press inquiries for the central government but did not receive a reply.
When asked about the report during a regular press briefing Tuesday, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said she was “not aware” of the information.
“As for the appointment and removal of the Chinese Foreign Minister, the Chinese side has released information before,” spokesperson Mao Ning said in an apparent reference to the July announcement of his replacement.
Qin was replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, but remains listed as one of China’s five State Councilors – a high-ranking role in China’s top administrative body.
Qin’s removal earlier this summer came as national security has taken on an enhanced importance under Xi, who sees significant threats for China within strained tensions with the United States and its allies and is widely seen to have bolstered China’s counter-espionage and intelligence gathering apparatuses.
Qin served as Chinese Ambassador to the US from July 2021 until early 2023 when he assumed his short-lived role as foreign minister.
During his tenure, he played a key role in efforts by the US and China to restore communication, including meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid-June during the American diplomat’s visit to Beijing.
According to a biographical information page on China’s Foreign Ministry website, Qin is married with a son.
The page, which gives Qin’s qualifications up until 2021, is part of a listing of former vice and assistant ministers. Qin’s name is not included in the list of former foreign ministers nor in the Chinese language version of the former vice and assistant minister page.
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CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.