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Liu Jianchao spent more than a decade as the head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s information office. Photo: Getty Images

ExclusiveChinese foreign ministry veteran tipped to take up top propaganda job

  • Once a strong contender to be the next foreign minister, Liu Jianchao now appears destined for the State Council Information Office, a source says
  • The speculation comes as the country tries to counter Western perceptions on a range of issues, from the South China Sea to Xinjiang

A veteran diplomat has become a front runner to head the Chinese government agency responsible for foreign propaganda and liaising with foreign media, a key post in the country’s narrative war with the West.

Liu Jianchao, who twice headed the foreign ministry’s information department, is likely to be promoted to head of the State Council Information Office, according to a government source familiar with the discussion.

The office’s present chief, Xu Lin, 58, is expected to be appointed head of the National Radio and Television Administration, which oversees China’s television and radio stations.

The source declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media. Announcements about the changes are expected to be made soon.

Liu, 58, is deputy director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, the Communist Party’s foreign affairs body. He has spent more than a decade as a foreign ministry spokesman – first from 2001 to 2009 and again from 2014 to 2015. He was also assistant minister of foreign affairs during his second stint.

He had been seen as a strong candidate to succeed Foreign Minister Wang Yi, 68. If he does take up the SCIO position, it will leave open the question of who will become China’s next foreign minister.

The SCIO appointment is one of a number of changes expected in the State Council, China’s cabinet, as authorities seek to reshape international perception of the country by appointing diplomats well versed in foreign languages and culture to top propaganda posts.

Another veteran diplomat, foreign vice-minister Le Yucheng, will join the National Radio and Television Administration, where he will be deputy to Xu.

Cultural Revolution to Wolf Warrior: Chinese envoys on edge of new era

China has been at odds with the West over a wide range of international issues in recent years – from the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the origins of Covid-19 to trade, Ukraine and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

In contrast to the low-profile approach of previous administrations, China has adopted a more defiant tone – known as Wolf Warrior diplomacy – under President Xi Jinping.

Among senior diplomats, Liu has an unusual background in that not much of his career has been overseas. Apart from stints as ambassador to the Philippines from 2009 to 2011 and to Indonesia from 2011 to 2013, he has spent little time abroad.

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Liu became deputy director of the National Bureau of Corruption Prevention and head of the international cooperation department of the party’s graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) in 2015, a year after China launched Operation Fox Hunt to repatriate Chinese fugitives. Liu’s job was to liaise with international agencies and other governments to arrest the suspects and to recover funds transferred offshore.
He then headed the discipline inspection commission in the eastern province of Zhejiang in 2017 before returning to his old field of foreign affairs as deputy director of the party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission in 2018.

The SCIO, formerly known as the Central Office of Foreign Propaganda, organises press conferences for central government officials, releases a wide range of “white papers” on Chinese government positions, liaises with foreign media and directs domestic media groups on their international news coverage.

The office is also part of the government’s internet censorship apparatus.