The US Ambassador to Japan floated rumors about the disappearance of China’s foreign minister and other top officials in a social media post that risks undermining Biden administration efforts to ease tensions with Beijing.
(Bloomberg) — The US Ambassador to Japan floated rumors about the disappearance of China’s foreign minister and other top officials in a social media post that risks undermining Biden administration efforts to ease tensions with Beijing.
Rahm Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, posted a comment on Elon Musk’s X — with the hashtag #MysteryInBeijingBuilding — that riffed on speculation about recent absences from the public eye of top ministers and head of the country’s rocket force, while also highlighting the high youth-unemployment rate under President Xi Jinping.
“President Xi’s cabinet lineup is now resembling Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None,” Emanuel wrote. “First, Foreign Minister Qin Gang goes missing, then the Rocket Force commanders go missing, and now Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen in public for two weeks. Who’s going to win this unemployment race? China’s youth or Xi’s cabinet?”
The comments conflict with the commonly observed practice of US diplomats staying away from speculation on other countries’ domestic politics. China’s ruling Communist Party also typically issues sharp rebukes of any foreign official’s discussion about the government’s inner workings.
Emanuel and the State Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. China’s embassy in Washington declined to comment on the episode.
Xi’s Military Shakeup Targets ‘Irreplaceable’ Nuclear Force: Q&A
Emanuel’s post risks complicating weeks of delicate diplomacy that have seen the US send a parade of senior officials to Beijing in a bid to keep ties between the world’s two biggest economies from going off the rails amid tensions over high-tech trade and Washington’s support for Taiwan. At the same time, President Joe Biden himself has contributed to those strains, as when he called Xi a “dictator” at a fundraising event in June.
“This kind of ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy from the US side certainly does nothing to improve bilateral relations, but I doubt it will have a significant negative impact because Emanuel has no formal authority over US policy towards China,” Gabriel Wildau, managing director at advisory firm Teneo Holdings LLC in New York, said in a reference to Chinese diplomats’ more aggressive tactics in recent years.
“The administration may also privately tell Emanuel and other officials to avoid gloating and say on message,” Wildau said.
President Joe Biden said in recent days that he was “disappointed” to learn that Xi wasn’t coming to the G-20 summit in India this weekend, but still planned to meet with him at some point. He isn’t planning on engaging with Premier Li Qiang, who is coming in Xi’s stead, the White House said.
China watchers have for some weeks been scrutinizing unusual developments in Beijing. Xi in July ousted Qin Gang, his handpicked foreign minister, without explanation. The top two Rocket Force generals, whom he had also appointed, were then purged.
But Emanuel’s timeline for Li may be incorrect, as the defense minister made a public appearance on Aug. 29, at a gathering with African leaders.
Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor and President Barack Obama’s one-time chief of staff, has a record of making controversial remarks. And he’s been increasingly outspoken in his criticism of China lately amid that country’s economic faltering.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, he said the Communist Party used “lying and cheating as a modus operandi of the state.” He also said the US shouldn’t stand in the way of China’s growing economic peril.
“My view is keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re the one with 30% unemployment among youth, not us. You got 10 years of housing with nobody in it. You got people that are getting fleeced by the big developers and the banks. You got municipalities in China that makes Chicago look like a AAA-rated bond. Keep at it.”
–With assistance from Peter Martin and Iain Marlow.
(Updates with comment from Teneo managing director in 7th paragraph.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.