China’s Former Ambassador to Japan Appointed as Foreign Minister

Wang Yi, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Japan, was named China’s foreign minister, as Asia’s two biggest economies grapple with a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Wang, whose appointment was ratified by the National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday, replaces Yang Jiechi, 62, who was an interpreter for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush when he served as a diplomat in Beijing in the 1970s. Yang was named as one of five councilors to the State Council, the cabinet, which is headed by Premier Li Keqiang.

Wang, 59, will move from the Taiwan Affairs Office, where he was director. He was ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007, and previously headed the Foreign Ministry’s Asia department. A visiting scholar at Georgetown University in 1997, he worked in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, has harmed trade and economic ties between the two countries and inflamed historical tensions. Japan invaded China in the 1930s, and China lost a war to Japan in 1894, both still symbols of humiliation to many Chinese.

Japan has challenged the international order created since the end of World War II and seriously damaged relations between the two countries, Yang said at a March 9 press conference during the NPC’s annual session. He urged Japan to make “concrete efforts” to improve its relations with China. Yang, from Shanghai, was named foreign minister in 2007. He served as ambassador to the U.S. from December 2000 until late 2004 during George W. Bush’s first term in office.

Japan Protests

Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s then-prime minister, authorized the purchase of three of the islands in September, sparking violent protests in China that damaged Japanese businesses. China claims the islands, which are administered by Japan, are a part of its sovereign territory.

Dai Bingguo, who was the counterpart to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is no longer a state councilor. Yang’s experience as foreign minister puts him in line to assume Dai’s role.

China brought the law-enforcement arms of its maritime agencies under one body this month, a signal the country wants to better organize its maritime assets amid territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Regional Tensions

The nation’s military will also be a part of President Xi Jinping’s response to regional tensions. Xi became chairman of the People’s Liberation Army military commission in November, unlike former President Hu Jintao who had to wait for two years for the post.

Chang Wanquan, 64, was appointed defense minister yesterday, replacing Liang Guanglie. General Chang also sits on the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, the body that controls the military.

China’s armed forces have a dream to become a strong military just as China has a dream to become a strong country, General Liu Yazhou, a political commissar at the National Defense University, wrote in a March 15 article in the People’s Daily newspaper. The army needs to be vigilant against corruption, he wrote.

In a sign China is trying to improve relations in the region, the Foreign Ministry appointed Wang Yingfan as its first envoy for Asian affairs, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said March 11.

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