Several senior diplomats have been given key non-diplomatic positions in an attempt to employ media-savvy officials with foreign experience to help grapple with domestic problems. Observers say the trend reflects the growing significance of China's foreign affairs - particularly its relations with the West - in the nation's development.
One such senior diplomat is Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who yesterday became the first female spokesperson for a session of the National People's Congress.
Fu kicked off a news briefing yesterday ahead of today's opening of the NPC's annual session by outlining the meeting's agenda and stressing that a frugal approach would be adopted this year. She then took questions from reporters on various topics, including Sino-Japanese ties and political reform.
Lu Xinhua, another vice foreign minister who previously served in Hong Kong, has become session spokesman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Other senior diplomats assigned to key non-diplomatic positions include Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya , a former vice-foreign minister who was once posted to the United Nations; and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office deputy director He Yafei , another former vice-foreign minister.
The chief of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, Wang Yi , was also a vice-foreign minister and a former ambassador to Japan before he was assigned to his current post in 2008. He is expected to become foreign minister after the NPC meeting and be replaced as Taiwan Affairs Office head by Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun .
"China's foreign affairs and its domestic development are getting more and more integrated, and the government obviously wants someone with foreign experience and knowledge to help shape policies," said Professor Li Xing , an international relations specialist at Beijing Normal University.
"The senior diplomats have extensive personal connections overseas, which may help China solve its own problems."
Nanjing -based political commentator Gu Su said the fact that the United States was increasing its presence in Asia was another reason behind such moves.
"A lot of issues facing China, including Taiwan, are closely related to the United States, and so the nation needs someone who is familiar with international relations to deal with such issues."
Gu said some senior diplomats had accompanied state leaders on overseas visits and had impressed the leaders with their ability to defuse tensions.
The increase in overseas connections among some government agencies dealing with trade and investment, such as the Ministry of Commerce, had also prompted Beijing to pay more regard to the role of diplomats.
Qiao Mu , a Beijing-based journalism professor, said some diplomats were experienced in handling the media, and that made them good spokesmen for other agencies.
Fu, 60, raised the eyebrows of mainlanders soon after the news conference, with state-run China Central Television giving an extensive introduction to her background. Some mainlanders also commented that Fu, from Inner Mongolia , was the first female vice-foreign minister from an ethnic minority.
Asked about the deteriorating Sino-Japanese relationship, Fu said China needed to be decisive.
"There are Chinese people saying that our nation should be tougher, especially when we are being provoked," she said.
But Qiao said the growing role of diplomats would not necessarily enhance the image of the Chinese government, because the envoys were still tight-lipped on sensitive issues and the government was not transparent.