Giving China’s diplomacy the status it deserves

Andrei Lungu | 15 October 2017

After Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Party primary and was then elected US president, he offered her the post of secretary of state. In Australia, Julia Gillard did the same once she unseated Kevin Rudd from the prime ministership in 2010: she named him foreign minister.

Throughout the world, the minister of foreign affairs is the second or third most important government position. This is natural, as this prestigious position links the nation and the outside world.

This was once true for China. The first foreign minister after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China was Zhou Enlai, who was also premier. His status enhanced his foreign minister position. Foreign officials negotiating with Zhou knew they were talking to an important politician who could influence policy debates in Beijing. His authority offered him more latitude to conduct negotiations abroad than a simple diplomat.

But after eight years, Zhou abandoned his foreign minister portfolio and China later decided to professionalise the position. The foreign minister might be one of the most powerful politicians in other countries, but not in China. There is no foreign minister among the seven members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. He isn’t even one of the 25 members of the Politburo. He is a member of the Central Committee, a body of 205 members. Maybe the foreign minister is China’s 26th most powerful official, or maybe 204th. Who can tell?

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This article has been published by Andrei Lungu, President of RISAP, in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on the South China Morning Post website.

Photo Credits:  China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, at the United Nations, in September 2017 (Flickr/United Nations Photo)

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Andrei Lungu​

Andrei Lungu is president of RISAP. His research interests include China’s foreign policy and its domestic politics, Sino-American relations and the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

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