Wu Jianmin: a voice of reason at a time of growing nationalism

The death of the veteran diplomat serves as a reminder that at so important a time in China’s development, there is every need for cool-headed diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 11:28pm

At a time of tense relations between China and its neighbours and the US, there is every need for reasoned dialogue. Veteran diplomat Wu Jianmin (吳建民 ) espoused such thinking, believing that more was to be gained from communication and cooperation than flexing muscle. Amid the rise of nationalism, that put him at odds with growing numbers in society, who labelled him as being outdated and even a traitor. With his passing in a vehicle accident, the nation and the world have lost a much-needed voice of moderation and modesty.

Wu Jianmin: Dovish gentleman diplomat and critic of nationalism

Wu, who was 77, embodied the best traditions of diplomacy. He was a staunch supporter of Chinese interests, appreciated and understood other cultures and believed that all disputes could be settled through dialogue. Those skills were learned and refined over 57 years of serving the nation, starting with being a translator for Mao Zedong (毛澤東 ) and Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and through posts that included being ambassador to the UN, France and the Netherlands, president of the China Foreign Affairs University and a government adviser. In retirement, he promoted his dovish views, at one time arguing that “anyone who resorts to war will fall in the current era of peace and development”.

Senior Chinese diplomat and critic of mainland media Wu Jianmin, 77, dies in car accident

That put him at odds with nationalist hawks, sparking heated exchanges with the editor of the populist Global Times tabloid and Major-General Luo Yuan, a senior PLA researcher. Opponents contended that China’s new-found place in the world warranted hardline diplomacy to protect interests. With nationalism elsewhere spreading in the face of a growing backlash against globalisation, as seen by the popularity of US presidential candidate Donald Trump and today’s vote in Britain on whether to leave the European Union, Wu seemed out of step.

Avoiding conflict requires allies and adversaries alike to communicate. There has to be tolerance, understanding and patience, not rhetoric and sabre-rattling. Although Wu will be missed, his death also serves as a reminder that at so important a time in China’s development, there is every need for cool-headed diplomacy.