Thu, Dec 23, 2010 - Page 5 News List

China appoints new top diplomat

NATIONAL INTEREST:The appointment of Zhang Zhijun as the Communist Party’s top man at the foreign ministery is thought to herald a more assertive Chinese foreign policy

AP, BEIJING

China has replaced its top foreign ministry official amid a trend toward greater assertiveness in handling territorial disputes and participating in global organizations.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) took over recently as the ministry’s Communist Party secretary, state media reports said yesterday, meaning he outranks Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪). Yang was accused of being caught off guard when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at a security conference in Vietnam this year that Washington considered the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes as part of the US national interest.

Zhang, 57, has served almost his entire career in the party’s International Liaison Department, a type of shadow foreign ministry focusing on contacts with foreign political parties, until he became deputy to Yang last year.

That party background may mean he has more of a say in policymaking than his predecessor, as China increasingly abandons its former low-key approach to dealing with the outside world. The country’s rising economic clout amid the global economic downturn that has battered traditional powers such as the US has emboldened Chinese leaders to demand a bigger say in global affairs such as climate change and at international organizations, including the UN.

China’s aggressive assertion of its territorial claims in the South China and East China seas have, meanwhile, sparked a backlash from other countries in the region, drawing them closer to Washington.

The People’s Liberation Army is believed to be leading the calls for a tougher line in such disputes, while other cabinet officials have emphasized quietly advancing China’s interests in economic, media and cultural spheres.

China’s most senior diplomat, State Counselor Dai Bingguo (戴秉國), is seen as balancing the different arguments between the two sides, although the country’s opaque political system ensures that such debates almost never make it into the public arena.

Little is known about Zhang’s personal style, although his party background and relative lack of experience working abroad suggest he will closely reflect the tone set by the party leadership.

Zhang’s appointment was announced on official Web sites, including that of the party’s People’s Daily newspaper, but no exact date was given.

He takes over from Wang Guangya (王光亞), a career diplomat who was ambassador to the UN from 2003 to 2008, during which time China took advantage of the US preoccupation with Iraq to expand its diplomatic space.

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