Veteran diplomats new faces of foreign diplomacy
Updated: 2013-03-17 07:27
By Zhao Shengnan and Wu Jiao (China Daily)
A former ambassador to Japan was named China's new foreign minister yesterday, while incumbent Yang Jiechi, 63, has been promoted to state councilor responsible for foreign policy.
Wang Yi, 60, who headed the embassy in Japan from 2004 to 2007 and was in charge of Taiwan affairs from 2008 until now, is the country's new foreign minister, replacing Yang.
Yang, ambassador to Washington from 2001 to 2005 and a polished English speaker, assumes the post of state councilor overseeing China's foreign diplomacy. China has only five such councilors and the position is above that of the foreign minister. Former state councilor Dai Bingguo, who speaks Russian, retires at the age of 72.
Wang and Yang will become the new faces of Chinese diplomacy, engaging foreign counterparts such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US secretary of state John Kerry.
Their appointments are part of a broad revamp in state and government leadership as China concludes a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that saw Party chief Xi Jinping elected president on Thursday and Li Keqiang named premier on Friday.
Diplomats close to Wang said the new foreign minister is well tested and has honed his diplomatic skills through managing China's most challenging diplomatic missions in the past decade.
His tenure as China's top envoy to Japan in 2004 came at a time when relations between both countries chilled as the then Japanese prime minister repeatedly paid homage to the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrined Class-A war criminals who committed atrocities in China and Asia.
Wang rose above the difficulties and managed to rekindle warmer ties with the arrangement of an exchange of visits by the countries' leaders in 2006 and 2007.
Later, from 2008 as head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, the urbane Wang also won praise for his adroit handling of improved relations between the mainland and Taiwan, capped by the signing of key economic agreements.
Wang also had the challenging task of being China's representative to the Six-Party Talks from 2007 to 2008 that involved the two Koreas, the US, Japan and Russia, negotiations aimed at containing Pyongyang's nuclear programs. Wang helped to bring in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the US to sit down for talks.
The DPRK has since conducted a third nuclear test on Feb 12 this year that raised tensions once again.
Japan's Kyodo Agency noted on Saturday that with the appointments of Yang and Wang, China's foreign policy team would be led by experts in US and Japanese affairs.
Observers said that with their pooled experiences, Wang and Yang would form an "ideal partnership" dealing with China's most knotty issues - territorial disputes with some Asian neighbors, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and Washington's current Asian "pivot".
China and Japan, the world's second-and third-largest economies respectively, have had turbulent ties resulting from Japanese aggression during World War II. The delicate relationship deteriorated dramatically last year after the Japanese government announced the "purchase" the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which has been under China's sovereignty for centuries.
The strategic "pivot" to Asia by the US, seen by many as part of Washington's efforts to contain China's rising power in the region, is also an ongoing challenge.
Feng Wei, an expert on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said Wang could use his broad expertise and rational approach to ease the tension between Beijing and Tokyo.
Wang has already made an impression in Japan, having impressed reporters and diplomats alike with his dark eyes and brushy brows, and his elegant command of Japanese. Embassy staff who had worked with him said he also had the ability to talk to people at all levels to gain their understanding.
His outstanding professionalism and easy-going character has earned him a "very good" reputation among colleagues, said Qu Xing, president of China Institute of International Studies. But, Qu added, Wang keeps a low profile even as he applies himself diligently to diplomatic research.
But there are tough challenges ahead, and resolving the Diaoyu Islands deadlock will take most of Wang's skills, Qu noted.