Foreign Ministry tipped for sweeping changes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2007, 12:00am

Rising stars expected to gain posts in reshuffle

The Foreign Ministry is expected to see a major reshuffle of its vice-ministers soon, with a group of rising political stars taking the diplomatic centre stage.

The reshuffle of at least four of seven vice-ministers is said to be part of the sweeping changes to top Communist Party and government posts that began before the party's 17 National Congress last month, according to sources.

Even so, analysts said the reshuffle would have little impact on the diplomatic policies mapped out by President Hu Jintao in his keynote address to the congress.

Veteran diplomat Dai Bingguo, who ranks as the top vice-minister, has been tipped to replace State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan as the senior adviser on diplomatic policies.

Mr Dai, 66, also head of the party's Central Foreign Affairs Office since early 2005, has long been tipped for promotion despite a mandatory retirement age of 65 for ministerial- level cadres. That he retained his seat on the elite Central Committee at the congress - while Li Zhaoxing, who retired as foreign minister in April, and Mr Tang, who turns 70 in January, lost their seats - has raised speculation of Mr Dai's imminent promotion.

Analysts said it could also be seen as a special arrangement for Mr Dai, to compensate for having lost the race for the top ministry post to Mr Li four years ago.

Mr Dai became the minister of the party's International Liaison Department in 1997. Mr Li took his first ministerial post as the ministry's party chief four years later.

Mr Dai was appointed Mr Li's top deputy and party chief at the ministry in the 2003 reshuffle.

Apart from his colourful diplomatic experiences starting from the 1960s, Mr Dai is also known for his connection to late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping . His father-in-law, Huang Zhen , was a revolutionary elder, China's first ambassador to France and a former foreign vice-minister in the 1960s.

While Wang Yi, former ambassador to Japan, has taken up the post of party chief, another vacancy left by Mr Dai - that of the party's top foreign policy adviser - is widely expected to be filled by Wang Guangya, ambassador to the United Nations. Wang Yi and Wang Guangya are not related.

Wang Guangya, who lost to Yang Jiechi in a close competition for foreign minister, has won a seat as an alternate member of the Central Committee and will return from the UN post soon.

Wang Guangya and Mr Yang, both 57, attended the London School of Economics at the same time in the early 1970s. They also have many traits in common: they are meticulous, low-profile and shrewd in handling highly charged political issues, such as bumpy Sino-US ties.

Wang Guangya's vacancy will be filled by vice-minister Zhang Yesui , 54, who as the ministry's top protocol official oversaw the handover ceremonies marking the return to the mainland of Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 1999.

Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei , 52, is expected to be promoted to vice-minister and take over Mr Zhang's responsibilities to supervise Sino-US relations.

Mr He - who was a minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington (the No2 post) when Mr Yang was named the top envoy to the US in 2000 - is believed to be the next ambassador.

Vice-minister Qiao Zonghuai , 63, who is in charge of the ministry's disciplinary policies, will retire soon. His replacement, Li Jinzhang , who was appointed a vice-minister last year, became a member of the Central Disciplinary Inspection Commission last month.

Another vice-minister, Lu Guozeng , 56, an expert on West Asian and African affairs who has been struggling with cancer, is also expected to step down.

Mr Lu is expected to be replaced by assistant foreign minister Zhai Jun , an expert in Middle East issues and former ambassador to Libya. Mr Zhai, 53, rose to fame for his role in the mainland's growing presence in resources-rich Africa and Arab countries, and for securing the release of Chinese workers taken hostage.

Along with Mr Zhai and Mr He, two other assistant foreign ministers - former ministry spokesman Kong Quan and Russia expert Li Hui - are also likely to be promoted in the new reshuffle.

Like other rising stars, Mr Kong, 52, also lacks overseas work experience as the head of a mission, which is deemed essential for further promotion in the ministry. As an expert on West European affairs, Mr Kong is likely to become ambassador to France in the future.

The sources said it remained unclear if vice-minister Wu Dawei , 61, would step down, because of his involvement in the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programmes.

Another top Asian expert, Cui Tiankai , has been sent to Tokyo to fill Wang Yi's vacancy, and the former head of the Asian Department, Fu Ying , has has become the first ever female ambassador to Britain.

Although it is also not clear who will fill the vacancies left by those vice-ministers-to-be, the reshuffle marks the emergence of new faces on the diplomatic stage.

Liu Jieyi, 50, head of the department of North American and Oceanian Affairs, is tipped to be a strong candidate for a post. His wife, Zhang Qiyue , former ministry spokeswoman and now ambassador to Belgium, is likely to be the top envoy to Canada, the sources said.