Yang Jiechi's appointment to emphasise Sino-US ties

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 April, 2007, 12:00am

Former top envoy to the United States, Yang Jiechi , took over from Li Zhaoxing as foreign minister yesterday, in what mainland analysts described as a smooth transition highlighting continuity in the country's foreign policy as well as a reshuffle of the diplomatic pack.

Signalling the completion of the reshuffle, Mr Yang received his first batch of foreign guests - from Mongolia - yesterday shortly after an official announcement by Xinhua on his promotion.

Although Mr Yang has a very different personality and diplomatic style, the changeover will not have much impact on China's foreign policy, according to analysts.

'The reshuffle is fairly normal as the 67-year-old Li has passed the retirement age for ministerial-level officials, which is 65,' said Ma Zhengang , president of the China Institute of International Studies. He added that Mr Li had wished to retire from the post.

'It will not have a major influence because China's foreign policy is decided by China's national interests rather than a foreign minister.

'The top leadership and central government make final decisions and the foreign ministry, though entitled to offer policy advice, is mainly an executive body,' said Mr Ma, who is a former ambassador to Britain.

Both Mr Li and Mr Yang are leading experts on China's bilateral ties with the US, and the reshuffle underlined the importance that Beijing places on forging a good relationship with Washington, according to another analyst who declined to be named.

Mr Ma agreed. 'Both of them are very experienced in dealing with Sino-US ties,' he said.

When Mr Li became China's top envoy to the US in 1998, Mr Yang was appointed vice-minister. They swapped their posts in 2001, making Mr Yang the youngest ambassador to Washington.

The pair, both fluent in English, worked together over the past decade to manage bumpy Sino-US ties, characterised by numerous twists and turns, including the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the collision between a US spy plane and Chinese fighter in 2001.

'Mr Li, a former ministry spokesman, has a bigger influence as he keeps in close contact with the media and is known for his easy-going style and popularity among journalists,' said Mr Ma.

According to Mr Ma, who worked with Mr Yang in the 1990s, the new minister, 57, is different. 'Mr Yang is known for his meticulousness and diligence. He has a good understanding of China's foreign policy and national interests and has sound judgment. And he is creative in presenting policy advice,' he said.

Mr Yang was educated at the London School of Economics in the early 1970s and was a trained English interpreter for top leaders. His predecessor was a graduate of the elite Peking University. Unlike Mr Li's colourful experiences in Africa and as a high-profile spokesman, Mr Yang's diplomatic career was unusually limited to dealing with the US.

Analysts noted Mr Yang's appointment would be good news for Washington as he was known as a family friend of US President George W. Bush. 'Personal ties will help. But it is national interests which influence the bilateral ties,' said the analyst who requested anonymity.

Both analysts played down concerns over Mr Yang's health.

'It is a good choice, which has been made carefully,' Mr Ma said.

'Like Mr Li, Mr Yang is pragmatic and is a doer,' said the other analyst.