Who is he?
Wang Yi has served as the Director of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) since 2008. Prior to his stint at the TAO, Wang spent most of his diplomatic career managing China’s relationships with its Asian neighbors. From 1989 to 2001, his posts included counselor at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, Japan; Director-General of Asian Affairs for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and Assistant to the Foreign Minister and Vice Foreign Minister overseeing the MFA’s Asia portfolio.
A Japan expert and fluent Japanese speaker, Wang also served as the Chinese ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007 and was head of the Chinese delegation to the Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue from 2003 to 2004. Both of these positions put Wang’s diplomatic skills to the test. Due to bilateral frictions over then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine honoring those who died for the Japanese Empire and tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, relations between China and Japan deteriorated sharply in the early part of Wang’s tour as ambassador.
Relations recovered toward the end of his tenure, however, when Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe, chose China as the destination for his first foreign visit as Prime Minister. Likewise, maintaining the delicate balancing act of managing Beijing’s relations with the two Koreas was also challenging for China as the host for the Six-Party Talks.
Wang received his B.A. in Japanese from Beijing International Studies University in 1982 and earned his PhD in international relations from China Foreign Affairs University. Wang also spent six months as a visiting fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service on a government scholarship.
Why is he in the news?
China’s new leaders appointed Wang as the new Foreign Minister during the just-concluded first session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC). Wang succeeded Yang Jiechi, who was promoted to a state councillorship overseeing China’s foreign affairs bureaucracy. Wang’s background as an Asian affairs specialist makes his appointment somewhat unique, in that both of his immediate predecessors—Yang and Li Zhaoxing—were former ambassadors to the United States before serving as Foreign Minister.
What can we expect from him?
Modest and reserved, Wang Yi’s leadership style has been favorably compared to that of Zhou Enlai, China’s long-serving Premier and Foreign Minister during the Mao Zedong period who maintained a strong reputation for humility. Wang’s extensive experience with Japan should come in handy in helping new President Xi Jinping’s administration manage its currently turbulent ties with Tokyo.
Moreover, Wang will assist Yang and other relevant senior Chinese officials in managing the day-to-day diplomacy with an increasingly provocative North Korea, which recently conducted its third nuclear test and declared an end to its armistice agreement with South Korea. His ability to navigate these challenges rests on translating his substantial regional expertise into successful management of the relationship with the United States and with other regional powers.