Until recently, Qin Gang was one of China’s most prominent American experts and influential policymakers. But after a mysterious, month-long disappearance from public view, he was unceremoniously ousted from the position of foreign minister in late July.

Few Chinese officials had as rapid a rise as Qin, whom I first met three decades ago when he was a low-level functionary. Qin served as Chinese ambassador to the U.S. for 18 months before being promoted to one of China’s top foreign policy jobs just a year ago, at the age of 56.

One might have thought he was in good stead with the regime. Qin was a so-called “Wolf Warrior diplomat,” one of a group of outspoken Chinese diplomats not shy of criticizing the U.S. sharply and publicly, and unfailingly defending their homeland. The term appeared in 2017 after the hugely popular Chinese movie Wolf Warrior 2, about a special ops hero.

But Qin was a Wolf Warrior diplomat long before the term was coined. As Foreign Ministry spokesperson, as vice minister of foreign affairs and before he was China’s ambassador in Washington, he was a vigorous hawk toward the United States.

Ties between Beijing and Washington have been steadily deteriorating over persistent trade, human rights, military policy, espionage and cyber-hacking issues, and particularly over Taiwan, the self-governing island that China views as a renegade province to which the U.S. sells huge amounts of sophisticated weaponry. This has been the backdrop to Qin’s career, as he became one of the leaders in formulating China’s aggressive foreign policy. With his sudden fall — certainly a shock within China’s leadership hierarchy — things do not bode well for Qin, and China’s intentions toward the U.S. have become murkier.

I first met Qin 30 years ago in Monte Carlo. At the time I was a journalist based in Paris, covering the International Olympic Committee congress that was to select the host city for the 2000 Summer Olympics. Beijing was a strong contender, even though the IOC vote was in September 1993, a mere four years after the Chinese army’s violent crackdown on student-led protesters based at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which resulted in much bloodshed as Chinese tanks and armored personnel carriers retook the square from the unarmed protesters.

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