FORMER Chinese ambassador to Britain Jiang Enzhu is tipped to be re-appointed as vice-minister of Foreign Affairs.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing said yesterday the decision was made by the leadership in mid-May in anticipation of a major personnel reshuffle in the ministry.
Earlier, Mr Jiang, 59, who was posted to London in late 1995, had been tipped to head the Hong Kong office of the Foreign Ministry. But the Hong Kong position instead went to Ma Yuzhen, deputy director of the Information Office of the State Council and another former ambassador to London.
The leadership wanted a diplomat with Mr Jiang's experience back in the Foreign Ministry following the expected retirement of Foreign Minister Qian Qichen some time after the 15th Party Congress in the autumn, the sources said.
The two more senior of the four vice-ministers - Tang Jiaxuan and Li Zhaoxing - in addition to Mr Jiang, are considered candidates for Mr Qian's position.
Mr Jiang had already served one tour as vice-foreign minister, in charge of European affairs, from 1991 to 1995. Western diplomats, however, believe that two heavyweight officials, Foreign Office of the State Council director Liu Huaqiu and Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Wu Yi, have better chances to head the Foreign Ministry.
Mr Liu, 58, a former vice-foreign minister and protege of premier Li Peng, is Beijing's foremost expert on the US, while Ms Wu, 59, is considered by many senior cadres as the only official with enough international stature to head the Foreign Ministry.
Mr Qian, 69, is expected to keep his more important posts of Politburo member and vice-premier after relinquishing his Foreign Ministry position.
A final decision on the appointment is expected to be made at the annual leadership meeting at Beidaihe this summer.