July 11 (Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Gang will not attend a diplomatic gathering in Indonesia this week for health reasons, a spokesman for his ministry said on Tuesday.
Wang Wenbin, the top diplomat, will represent China at the meetings in Jakarta instead, spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing, confirming a Reuters report quoting sources familiar with the matter who said Wang would attend on Chen’s behalf.
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are scheduled to meet on Thursday, ahead of Friday’s East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
“State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang cannot attend the ASEAN ministerial meeting due to health reasons,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin. He did not elaborate.
Chen, 57, took over from Wang as foreign minister in December and was last seen in public on June 25 in Beijing after meeting officials from Sri Lanka, Russia and Vietnam.
His absence did not go unnoticed.
A State Department spokesperson, when asked last Friday about an article in US political news website Politico that cited speculation that health issues may be behind Chen’s absence, said he had “not heard” of the report.
An EU spokesperson said Chen was supposed to meet EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week in Beijing, but the meeting was postponed after China told the EU that the dates were “no longer possible”.
The EU was informed of the delay just two days before Borrell’s scheduled arrival on July 5, according to a source familiar with the plans.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to attend the meetings in Jakarta this week, marking another opportunity for talks with China as Washington seeks to lay the groundwork in the tense relations between the major powers.
Blinken met Chen and Wang Yi in Beijing last month, the first visit to China by a US secretary of state in five years.
Wang Yi, the foreign policy chief of the Chinese Communist Party, ranks above Chen, who as the government’s foreign policy chief holds the post of foreign minister.
Additional reporting by Yu Lun Tian in Beijing, Karen Lima in Manila and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Written by Martin Beatty and John Geddy; Edited by Robert Purcell
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”