Zhang Zhijun an unknown quantity in Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 5:12am

Before being named deputy foreign minister in 2009, Zhang Zhijun spent most of his time as a relatively unknown official with the International Department of the Communist Party's Central Committee.

But many eyes are now on the senior diplomat and party secretary of the foreign ministry, especially those of political observers in Taiwan, as Zhang has been appointed the new chief of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office.

As with his predecessor, Wang Yi, Zhang assumes the position without a particularly strong background in Taiwan affairs.

"He is a totally new face to the Taiwanese people, and we don't know anything about his personality," said Professor Edward Chen I-hsin, a political analyst at Taiwan's Tamkang University. "Zhang has not made any comments on Taiwan before, and we don't know his views on cross-strait ties."

Zhang has not made any comments on Taiwan before, and we don't know his views on cross-strait ties

Zhang was born in Nantong, Jiangsu province, in 1953, and joined the Communist Party at 18. He served with the Heilongjiang Production and Construction Corps between 1969 and 1974, and in 1975 began his career with the International Department, an agency in charge of exchanges with political parties of other countries.

In 1988, he was promoted to director of the department's division responsible for American and North European affairs, and in 1991 was posted to the Chinese embassy in London for three years before returning to the International Department. From 1996 to 1997, he was deputy party secretary of Zibo in Shandong province, before being named research director of the International Department.

In 2000, he was appointed deputy director of the department, moving to the Foreign Ministry as deputy minister nine years later.

A part of Zhang's job is to handle media relations for the ministry. In a press briefing held in 2009 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Zhang said China was still developing as a country after 30 years of reform and opening up, but that Chinese people were confident about their future.

Some mainland political observers considered Zhang a low-profile diplomat who seldom made his views public, until recent months when tensions between China and Japan flared amid the territorial dispute involving the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

At a Foreign Ministry forum in December, Zhang said China would not be provocative, but also would not be frightened, adding that the disputes should be resolved through dialogue.

Taiwanese media reported that Zhang was reluctant to go to the Taiwan Affairs Office, but Beijing wanted to continue appointing senior diplomats to head cross-strait affairs, which often involve complex international relations, particularly with the United States and Japan.

Zhang declined to comment on his career move, during the annual sessions of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress, but he added: "All Chinese people are concerned about Taiwan."