Beijing former envoy to UN takes up Taiwan role ahead of 19th Party Congress

China’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, becomes top-ranked deputy at Taiwan Affairs Office in lead-up to Communist Party congress next week

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 2:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 6:06pm

China’s former ambassador to the United Nations has taken up a new role as a deputy head of the country’s Taiwan policymaking body, part of a personnel shake-up ahead of the Communist Party’s five-yearly national congress next week.

Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador to the United Nations from August 2013 until last month, took up the position at the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) on Wednesday, according to the office’s website.

The TAO, an agency under the State Council, oversees economic, trade and cultural relations with Taiwan, a self-ruled island seen by Beijing as a wayward province.

As the top-ranked deputy at the TAO, Liu is in line to take over from office director Zhang Zhijun in the next few months.

Liu takes on the new role just days after Taiwanese Premier William Lai Ching-te openly identified himself as a supporter of independence for the island.

Taiwan will not ‘bow to pressure from the mainland’ but seeks to maintain peace

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have nosedived since Tsai Ing-wen, from the island’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, was sworn in as Taiwanese president in May last year.

After her election, Beijing shut down all official communication channels and cut back on the number of mainland tourists allowed to visit the island.

Observers said that given the cross-strait tensions, Liu was expected to take a hard line to further pressure Taipei, especially on the international stage.

Tang Shao-cheng, a cross-strait relations specialist from National Chengchi University in Taipei, said

Liu had a wealth of experience in international organisations.

“He not only knows how they work but he also has extensive contacts in international organisations. His new role heading the TAO is bad news for Taiwan, which wanted very much to expand its international space to ensure its survival. Liu is bound to dim Taiwan’s hopes,” Tang said.

But Zhu Songling, a Taiwan affairs expert from Beijing Union University, said Liu’s international experience could also help Beijing better understand the “Taiwan issue” to find a quick and smooth solution.

“Liu is a seasoned diplomat and he understands what Taipei cares about from an international perspective. He is a person with both principle and flexibility. This kind of character can help Beijing resolve the issue quicker,” Zhu said.

Taiwan warned choice of pro-independence premier will see relations with mainland China worsen over next three years

Born in Beijing in 1957, Liu taught English at university for at least four years before joining the foreign service in 1981. He started out as an interpreter at the UN’s Geneva headquarters, where he showed a command of English, French and Spanish.

He rose quickly through the ministry’s ranks, working as a counsellor for three years at the UN in New York in the 1990s.

He was promoted to assistant foreign minister in 2007 after serving as head of influential ministry departments overseeing the United States, international affairs and arms control.

He was named China’s ambassador to the UN about four years ago.

In March, he defended Beijing’s sixth veto on Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011, backing Russia yet again to block a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime for using chemical weapons against its own citizens in 2014 and 2015.

He blamed Washington, London and Paris for the turmoil in the Middle Eastern nation, calling their criticisms against Syria “very irresponsible and absurd”.