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THE PHOENIX FOLLIES: Where is Qin Gang?
One of China Foreign Minister Qin Gang's most charismatic appearances can be seen in this March 2022 clip, aired while still Ambassador in DC, hosted by the vivacious Fu Xiaotian of Phoenix TV.
9/26/23 —-An update to the original July 13 post—-
Two and a half months since posting this, two influential newspapers have finally weighed in on the matter:
(WSJ, September 19, 2023)
(FT, September 26, 2023)
JULY UPDATE… CHINA FOREIGN MINISTER QIN GANG STILL MISSING!
As I make a few updates to this July 13 post, which originally focused mainly on an analysis of Fu Xiaotian’s Phoenix TV interview with Qin Gang, the mystery has only deepened.
China’s Foreign Minister has gone missing for almost a month now with no official explanation. There was one press briefing where it was suggested that he might have been ill, but the official record of the comment was deleted the next day.
Long-planned meetings have been cancelled and conferences left unattended. Urgent questions about his whereabouts and condition since June 25, 2023 have been met with silence, summarily dismissed or clumsily ignored. Foreign Ministry spokespeople who are usually quite clever with words looked like deer in the headlights and could hardly put together a single coherent statement about his status, as I tweeted below.
Mainstream media has had to rely on official statements for the most part, the opacity of which have generated much speculation, but the internet is rich with anecdotal information gleaned from the (until recently) active social media posts of both Qin Gang, especially while he was ambassador, and Phoenix TV interviewer Fu Xiaotian who tweeted about her many interviews until she left the station in mid-2022.
One of her most enigmatic tweets, dated 02.24.2022 can be seen below:
The “historical day” that Fu Xiaotian alludes to in her 2.24.2022 post above is enigmatic in meaning. The post features a photo of the dappily-dressed Qin Gang taken at a Nixon library reception which was held on that date. There seem to be at least three layers of meaning. It was the day Russia invaded Ukraine, which was in the news, and managing the news of which became a sudden burden for the new ambassador, but the date was probably not yet etched deeply yet in the minds of partygoers. The party was held at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California to celebrate 50 years since Nixon’s visit to China. That’s a kind of “historical day” too.
But the poster alludes not just to a historical day, history with a capital H, but a “historical day to us.” The intended nuance of the pronoun is open to question.
Looking at what we know, and don’t know, about Fu Xiaotian’s tantalizing last tweet, dated April 10, 2023, in which she pointedly includes a picture of a private jet, a reaction shot from her 2022 interview with Qin Gang and her baby on board, one gets the sinking feeling that the snazzy private jet was not so much a sign of success and having made it, but a gilded invitation to detention and interrogation back in China.
This much is known from photographs she posted in what looks like the Newport Beach area. Fu was in LA with her newborn child. Her parents could be seen in photos she posted on the beach. She could have stayed in the US, but got a hard-to-refuse invite to return to China, which is not to say she didn’t harbor some doubts.
Her last tweet reads like the desperate cri de coeur of a confused mother with a lovely baby facing the unknown:
(Back to Fu Xiaotian’s influential March 24, 2022 interview first aired on Phoenix TV )
The Qin Gang interview was part of Fu Xiaotian’s one-on-one interview series, “Talk With World Leaders.” She enjoyed something akin to celebrity status at Phoenix, a Hong Kong-based, Beijing-supervised, quasi-state TV channel. She conducted an impressive number of seminal interviews with statesmen as varied as Vladimir Putin, Henry Kissinger, Bashar al-Assad and various other hardened characters.
Fu Xiaotian can be seen using her Phoenix Twitter account (@xiaotianphoenix) to promote the show below which is billed as being about the Russia-Ukraine crisis and China-US relations.
Fu Xiaotian sits down to talk US-China relations with Amb. Qin Gang in Washington.
During the in-depth interview, Qin Gang speaks soberly of the growing number of challenges in China-US relations
Qin Gang could certainly talk the talk of a loyal Xi protege, and at times even howls like a wolf warrior, but he shows a kinder, charming and charismatic side as well.
The internet on July 13 began rumbling with rumors which I will leave the reader to explore in depth elsewhere, other than to say that some of the things being said led me into a rabbit hole of interesting Chinese state-inflected TV, especially Phoenix TV which is based in Hong Kong but intimately tied to Beijing.
The swirl of rumors are interesting, even plausible, and it’s well known that the only true scandal in the eyes of China’s supposedly prudish communist party is when people who are on the political outs for other reasons are caught breaking rules that are broken all the time by party members in “good” standing. In keeping with FOLLIES tradition, it’s mostly the TV side of Fu Xiaotian’s career at Phoenix that I will be looking at here.
The most intriguing part of the Qin Gang March 24, 2022 interview is the segment filmed on a DC rooftop where the former Ambassador said he used to retreat to when pondering heavy issues of war and peace. In the interview he talks a great deal about the US tendency towards conflict and chaos, and yet he clearly finds something uplifting and inspiring in the sight of DC sprawled out at his feet.
Among other claims made in the Phoenix interview program, there is a recap of Qin Gang’s early public statement to the effect that China knew nothing about Putin’s planned invasion of Ukraine.
I’m willing to believe he didn’t know about it.
Qin Gang gives his interviewer a rather warm personalized tour of his hidey-hole in plain sight under the District of Columbia sky. Sharing breathtaking views of the Mall and the Capitol in this unique windswept outpost somehow prompts him to pontificate with an air of philosophical profundity:
“When I see the World War II Monument, the Korean Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I can’t help but think that war and peace have been a persistent issue for the US through its history.”
Notice anything wrong with the picture above?
In trying to prettify the scene with additional aerial views of Capitol Building, which is plainly visible in the distance and used in other shots, the editors at Phoenix inserted the wrong picture for the closing refrain of Qin Gang’s grand soliloquy, and nobody noticed. Certainly not Fu Xiaotian who was probably too swept off her feet by the grandeur of the moment. A reader wrote to say the ersatz capitol pictured above is actually the State House of Rhode Island.
Politics can be passionate, even romantic, so can TV. Say what you will about what is or isn’t going on, the visual frame below is beautiful and touching.
The soundtrack alone is priceless; more movie, or political musical, than serious news show, but, that's entertainment! You can almost picture the producers in Hong Kong cueing the strings.
It’s almost as if they forgot for a fleeting moment that they had two big cameras pointing at them and were being trailed by a Phoenix TV production crew.
The serious part of the interview, in which Qin Gang excoriates the US and vows that China will respond appropriately to any challenge, is conducted mostly indoors.
The interview location vis-a-vis the real Capitol Building is plain to see here.
On March 20, 2020, Fu Xiaotian’s Twitter feed contains an interesting tweet of unknown significance. It’s spring, cherry blossoms in bloom. Behind the tree appears is an unidentified residence in “This Town” which looks to be a nice part of Washington, DC. It was apparently a "blitz” or short visit.
On March 21, 2022 Fu Xiaotian posted news about her big interview with Qin Gang. Interestingly, one of the photos taken at that time made its way onto Qin Gang’s Twitter home page.
Fu Xiaotian’s Twitter feed overall brings attention to several of her major interviews, including this one about Ukraine conducted remotely with a scholar at the Carnegie Foundation in Moscow. Some of her posts make reference to her being a “Dame” in the British sense of the word. She did get a masters from Cambridge and donated money to build a garden on campus.
Educational credentials notwithstanding, her questions tend to be loaded, her comments off the mark. In saying things to the effect that not enough Ukrainians surrendered and Russia was too compassionate, and Putin should do it quick to get it over with, and it’s best to strike while Ukraine is still “fledgling” she at times puts words in her guest’s mouth and ends up sounding more hardline than the puzzled professor in Moscow who at one point refuses to address one of her questions because it frankly makes no sense.
When she finishes her grilling, her guest explains that Putin saw the conflict as inevitable and apparently does not see it as a war with Ukraine but with the US.
I haven’t watched Fu Xiaotian’s interview with Sebastian Kurz (yet) but it’s hard not to question the news credibility of a host who advertises her guest as “the youngest, most importantly the most handsome prime minister in Europe.”
Fu Xiaotian may not be a particularly good interviewer, and her English is not nearly as clear and easy to understand as that of Qin Gang, who is truly fluent, but she really gets around as the Talk with World Leaders host of Phoenix TV.
Most of the posts and retweets on Fu Xiaotian’s Phoenix-related tweets date to the year 2021 and the first half of the next year. They stop abruptly after June 24, 2022.
…but there is that one intriguing exception and that is a singular tweet that was posted on April 10 of this year.
The April 10 tweet generated considerable comment.
What’s more, it’s the penultimate tweet on her timeline; no known tweets after that.
Fu Xiaotian studied languages in Beijing where she supposedly got two degrees and later got a Master’s degree from Cambridge. She “generously” donated money to Cambridge and it must have been a considerable sum for there is now a “Xiaotian Fu Garden” adjacent to campus.
In other miscellany, there are Chinese language social media posts from the calendar year 2023, mostly family-related news, and then some cryptic material that she obviously wanted to share with someone, but the question remains, share with whom?
She launched her personal musings into cyberspace, lodging them in the public domain, but the nature of her communications suggest it is just one individual she is trying to reach, which makes these otherwise banal and apolitical posts an integral part of the story.
The post below, for example, was brought to my attention by Yang Han, a writer and political observer who once worked as a diplomat for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Now an Australian citizen, he is a spirited and insightful commentator on China. Here he presents in bilingual format a cryptic birthday message to an unnamed personage posted by Fu Xiaotian
And this from March 12, 2023…
The March 18, 2023 post below laments that an unnamed father is too busy for his own birthday celebration:
“Papa went off on a mission. He is too busy to celebrate the birthday. All we can do is wish him a happy birthday from afar.”
At the time the post was written, it was already March 19 in China. Qin Gang was off on a mission to Moscow with Xi Jinping to meet Putin. Qin’s birthday is March 19.
The child’s name, Er-kin, sounds like a playful variation of Er-qin, or Son of Qin.
Fu Xiaotian’s April 1 post shows a house in Southern California. The sharp-eyed Substack reader Joe Moschella says it’s in Newport, and is a rental.
There’s a considerable amount of information online but perhaps the key document in all of this still remains Fu Xiaotian’s March 2022 Phoenix TV interview with then-Ambassador Qin Gang in Washington. It appears in retrospect to be more impactful than either of them realized at the time. Watch it in full below:
The most controversial segment, the rooftop serenade, complete with a stirring background accompaniment, comprises the last few minutes of this recording.
(To play the video, tap on image below).
July 17 update…. Qin Gang still missing. CCP still not saying why.
No breaking news of import. China maintains its draconian silence. Kyodo News is first mainstream media outlet to connect Qin Gang’s disappearance to apparent links with Fu Xiaotian. (July 15, 2023)
There has been some speculation about other actors in the Qin-Fu drama based on photos of Fu that have surfaced in the last day or so. There are photos of Fu with Phoenix TV colleagues, Fu during an outing on a boat, and a 2022 Christmas photo with a baby carriage taken at an Orange County property near LA.
(the first two screenshots below show Fu Xiaotian at Phoenix TV. They were included in a video by popular Australia-based podcaster Edgar Lu, AKA “Sydney Daddy.”
悉尼奶爸 Sydney DaDDy 雪梨奶爸 @SydneyDaddy1236K
Citizen journalist Wang Zhian, formerly of CCTV fame, now in quasi-exile in Japan is among numerous commentators to draw attention to some photos that surfaced around July 15 that ostensibly show Fu Xiaotian enjoying a happy family life.
Substack colleague Joe Moschella looked into the impressive real estate. He learned that the house pictured below is in Newport Coast and rents for 60,000 per month. Fu Xiaotian’s last tweet tells us she left LA on April 10, 2023, so presumably the house is back on the market.
Finally, the intriguing photo underwritten with Fu’s cryptic message “to us.”
It was posted on the so-called “historical” day of February 24, 2022.
Further updates on this post…