Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang at a news conference in Beijing
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang at a news conference in Beijing. Image/Reuters Reuters

First, it was Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, and now it is Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Prominent people in China seem to have a history of disappearing from public life for long stretches of time.

The minister was last seen three weeks ago. He has not attended even a single important diplomatic event since reports of his extramarital affair with a TV presenter hit the headlines.

The 57-year-old last attended a meeting with visiting officials from Sri Lanka, Russia, and Vietnam on June 25. Meanwhile, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said that she has no information on his whereabouts.

A protege of Chinese leader Xi Jinping:

Gang used to be a foreign ministry spokesperson before he was made ambassador to the US. His meteoric rise to the foreign minister's position did not come as a surprise last year. He is one of the youngest people heading China's foreign ministry.

The minister followed a "wolf warrior" approach while addressing China's concerns on Taiwan and other disputes. The reports of an alleged affair have put him in a precarious position since China's Communist Party does not approve of people having extramarital affairs.

Social media had been abuzz with reports of the minister's alleged affair for quite some time. There had been several speculations before he disappeared from the public eye, according to The Guardian.

However, the abrupt disappearance of high-profile people who fail to tow the party's line is not uncommon in China. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping himself vanished from public view for a brief period before he was appointed China's top leader in 2012.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's founder, Jack Ma, also went through something similar after he publicly criticised Chinese regulators for reining in a push into online lending, wealth management, and insurance products by the firm's online payments arm, Ant Group.

A planned record-shattering $35 billion Hong Kong-Shanghai IPO by Ant Group, which would have added to Ma's already massive wealth, was also abruptly shelved. Ma subsequently disappeared from public view for weeks, and Ant Group was ordered by regulators to return to its roots as an online payment services provider.

The government crackdown weighed on Alibaba shares as well as those of other major Chinese tech players, with fears swirling that they might also face further fines and restrictions.

Similarly, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai went missing from the public eye in 2021 after making sexual assault allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

The two-time women's doubles Grand Slam winner made the allegations in a now-deleted post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. Shuai alleged that the former Vice Premier invited her to play tennis in Beijing about three years ago, after which he proceeded to sexually assault her while his wife stood watch.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chairman, Steve Simon, condemned the alleged incident and called for full transparency in the inquiries over the alleged sexual assault. Simon also made it clear that the women's tennis body is ready to cut ties with China, even though it will be a significant loss of business.

Initially, news of her whereabouts was only delivered via a video call to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach.

The pressure from the rest of the world with regard to the whereabouts of Shuai saw Chinese media release footage of the Olympian at a tennis tournament in Beijing. They also showed footage of the tennis player at a restaurant to suggest that she was safe and well.

She later issued a statement saying that the allegations were a "misunderstanding." No one knows what made her choose to go back on her initial statement. It now remains to be seen if Minister Gang will also reappear in public again, like Jack Ma and Peng Shuai.