Leading face of Chinese diplomacy gets enhanced UN role to help Beijing win over world
- Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang will take up public outreach role at New York-based mission, which has been upgraded to ambassador status
- Diplomat shuns the aggressive ‘wolf warrior’ style favoured by some of his peers and new posting is described as ‘tailor-made’ for him
Beijing has given one of the most visible faces of Chinese diplomacy a key role at the mission to the United Nations as Beijing seeks to expand its international influence.
Geng Shuang, currently a spokesman for the foreign ministry, will move to New York to take up the role as deputy permanent representative in charge of overall public outreach and press strategies.
Geng, 47, will hold the rank of ambassador – the highest rung on the diplomatic ladder – in a role that was previously carried the rank of counsellor.
A diplomatic source said the upgrade reflected the need for China to rise to the challenges it faced in international institutions.
“The mission [to the UN] lacks a candidate like Geng who has experience in both multilateral and public diplomacy. This role is tailor-made for him,” said the source who requested anonymity.
“The ambassador’s rank is a new arrangement … The upgrade reflects the importance and complexity of this job.”
The diplomat has twice previously been posted to the US – as an officer at the UN mission from 1999 to 2003 and as a counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Washington between 2011 and 2015.
“As a Chinese diplomat, no matter where I go, I will tell China’s story well … and to make my contribution to enhancing the understanding and friendship between China and the world,” Geng said on Friday in Beijing as he held his last regular press briefing.
Geng became China’s youngest foreign ministry spokesman in 2016 at the age of 43.
The source said as China’s role on the international stage expands, it needs diplomats like Geng to communicate China’s policy to the world.
“It has become more important for us to communicate with the outside world. Many on the outside world may only see our efforts on Twitter.
“But we do need someone who is well-versed in both day-to-day operations as well as public outreach in the team [at the UN].”
Geng’s appointment also comes at a time when China and the US compete for influence over various international institutions.
China is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and leads at least four of the 15 UN specialised agencies.
It is also the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget, which it sees as a crucial part of its soft power outreach.
In late May, China blocked a US-led effort to hold a Security Council meeting on Beijing’s plan to impose a national security law in Hong Kong that many fear will jeopardise Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status and role as a global financial hub.
China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, said at the time that the United States should “mind their own business”.
China also faces growing pressure at the UN over its treatment of the predominantly Muslim Uygur minority in Xinjiang, where it is accused of detaining more than a million people in reeducation camps.