China’s vice-president Wang Qishan given key foreign policy role
Attendance at meeting of new commission confirms the former anti-graft chief will be a central figure in country’s diplomacy
China’s vice-president Wang Qishan has been given a central diplomatic role, it emerged on Tuesday, following official confirmation of his attendance at the inaugural meeting of a key Communist Party body on foreign affairs.
Wang’s membership of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping, was stated in a report by Xinhua.
His attendance confirmed earlier reports by the South China Morning Post that Wang, who is valued for his “firefighting skills”, would play a leading role in foreign affairs after he left his previous post spearheading the party’s anti-corruption drive.
Several other party heavyweights also attended the meeting, including Premier Li Keqiang, the commission’s deputy head, and Politburo Standing Committee members Wang Huning and Han Zheng, though the report did not say if the latter were members of the new commission.
Xi highlighted the current uncertainty in international affairs and said the foreign affairs commission would play a leading role in China’s diplomacy.
The first meeting of the commission coincided with the start of vice-premier Liu He’s second trip to the United States for a new round of trade negotiations.
Wang could follow Liu to Washington in late June or July, in an attempt to keep strategic-level dialogue between the world’s largest two economies open on various issues, a source familiar with the situation told the Post earlier.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Xi said he would continue to promote the “Belt and Road Initiative” – his signature foreign policy venture – as “an important platform for [China] to push for the construction of a community of a shared future for mankind,” Xinhua said.
The Central Foreign Affairs Commission – formerly the Central Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, before being upgraded in Xi’s overhaul of party and state institutions in March – is a top decision making and coordination body under the party’s elite Central Committee.
As well as being the two most senior figures in the new commission, Xi and Li are both part of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. In contrast, Wang, having stepped down from the Standing Committee last year, is now, officially at least, just an ordinary party member.
After securing his place on the new commission, however, the reality is clearly somewhat different. Indeed, during China’s annual parliamentary meetings in March, Wang was presented as the party’s “No 8” leader, analysts said at the time.
Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the announcement was proof that Wang would be heavily involved in foreign affairs.
“It’s clear that he will be a very important decision maker in China’s foreign policy,” he said. “And because of his experience, informal political status and personal relations with Xi Jinping … his actual role will be much bigger than that of a regular member [of the new commission].”
Li said the reason Wang was not given the deputy head’s role in the new commission was probably because giving a leadership role to someone who was not even a member of the Central Committee – the largest of the party’s ruling bodies – “would be a problem politically”.
“A member is more acceptable … but it doesn’t really diminish the role he will be playing in foreign policymaking,” he said.
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said Wang’s seat at the commission was not unexpected.
“If my information is correct, Wang already attends PBSC [Politburo Standing Committee] meetings, which is much more important than making him a member of the foreign affairs commission,” he said.
“Xi wants Wang as he needs someone whom he can really trust and rely on, and who is knowledgeable about the USA and trade to oversee the crucial relations with the USA in a particularly testing time.” he said.
“I don’t want to imply that Xi does not trust Liu He, but Liu is not Wang and does not enjoy the very close relationship Wang has with Xi. I would be surprised if Wang is not very closely involved in superintending Liu’s visit to the USA,” he said.
Li said China’s greatest foreign policy challenge, which Xi described on Tuesday as “a proliferation of uncertain and unstable factors in the world”, was the complex bilateral relationship it had with the US amid trade skirmishes and other tensions with major players in the Indo-Pacific framework.