On January 29, without any formal announcement, China’s Foreign Ministry silently updated its leadership team on its official website. Multiple media outlets noticed that Qi Yu, a 57-year-old diplomatic novice but a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) work veteran, has been appointed as the new secretary of the ministry’s Party Committee.
This appointment makes Qi the third highest ranking leader of the ministry, just below State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (who is second highest ranking) and Office Head of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group Yang Jiechi (who is top-ranking).
As The South China Morning Post noted, Qi was “parachuted in from the party’s personnel wing” — the CCP’s Organization Department (OD).Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The OD is one of the five departments directly under the CCP Central Committee . (The other four are the Propaganda Department, the International [Liaison] Department, the United Front Work Department, and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.) It’s fair to say that the OD is the most important organ among the five, since it controls staffing positions within the CCP, oversees party building for the CCP, and judges each Party member’s performance and loyalty.
According to Qi’s resume, since starting his career in 1983, Qi has been working either on jobs related to the OD or directly within the OD. Previously, he had been promoted to the position of deputy minister of the OD.
Considering that Qi has zero experience in foreign affairs (and it’s highly dubious whether he can speak any foreign language at all), it’s obvious that Qi is to focus on personnel affairs as well as party building within China’s Foreign Ministry from now on.
For the ministry, Qi’s appointment is unprecedented. Over the past decade, Qi’s predecessors — such as Zhang Yesui, Zhang Zhijun, Wang Guangya, and Wang Yi — were all diplomatic veterans.
Zhang Lifan, a prominent political commentator based in Beijing, told the SCMP that China’s Foreign Ministry was an executive body without much say in making decisions, and that bringing an outsider into the diplomatic team showed that its standing could decline even further.
As Zhang noted, China’s diplomacy is directed by the Foreign Affairs Leading Group, a top party organ chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping in person. The roles of Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi are providing advice to the top leadership and helping implement Xi’s grand vision on diplomacy.
Since Xi took office, China’s diplomacy has abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “keeping a low profile” and adopted Xi’s idea of “making more achievements.” Consequently, China’s Foreign Ministry has turned increasingly assertive and sometimes even aggressive on foreign affairs. However, Xi’s strategic change on diplomacy, together with his other controversial domestic policies, has triggered growing anti-China sentiment worldwide. Despite that fact, Wang Yi repeatedly boasted about China’s “great achievements” in diplomacy and attributed China’s “historic achievements” to “Chairman Xi” personally.
For example, from the sidelines of the annual session of China’s National People’s Congress in March last year, Wang said at a press conference that “Chairman Xi Jinping, as the chief architect of China’s major-country diplomacy, has been personally involved in planning and conducting ‘brilliant’ head-of-state diplomacy.”
“[Xi’s diplomacy] not only deepened the world’s understanding of China, but enhanced China’s profile and influence and facilitated the solution to many global problems,” Wang added.
However, over the past few months, China’s dramatic deteriorating relations with the West, particularly with the United States, finally forced the top leaders to review China’s position in today’s world.
“It is likely that top leaders have attributed the deteriorating international environment to inadequate efforts on party building [by the Foreign Ministry] rather than errors in decision-making,” Zhang Lifan told the SCMP.
If Zhang’s analysis is right, Qi’s latest appointment will only strengthen the Party’s control — or to be more specific, Xi’s control — over China’s Foreign Ministry. It also means that China’s diplomacy will move forward or even speed up on the current track.