The central government appointed He Yafei, a professional diplomat, as vice-director of the State Council's Overseas Chinese Affairs Office yesterday in a move that appears to put him in line to replace office director Li Haifeng.
He, 57, has been in the diplomatic service since the 1980s and was chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' department of North American and Oceanian affairs from 2002 to 2006.
He served as a vice foreign minister from 2008 to 2010 before being appointed ambassador to China's diplomatic missions based in Geneva.
If he does succeed Li at the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a government agency that oversees liaison with and services to overseas Chinese communities, it would represent the appointment of an official with an extensive international background after an absence of nine years.
Li, 63, served as head of the Communist Youth League in Daqing, northeastern China, before being promoted to the league's central office in Beijing.
She assumed her current position in May 2007 after serving as vice- governor of Hebei province.
In an article published earlier this year in the Communist Party journal Qiushi, or Seeking Truth, Li wrote that the office should explore new initiatives to better serve the country's overall strategy, including developing public diplomacy via overseas Chinese networks, as well as promoting China's soft power. He's experience could help beef up the agency's programmes in those areas.
He's appointment follows that of another former vice foreign minister, Wang Guangya, as head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in late 2010.
Some political observers in Beijing have speculated that Li could be marked for further promotion after the party congress this autumn.