China Names New Foreign Minister

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007; 9:22 AM

BEIJING, April 27 -- China named a new foreign minister Friday, picking a polished diplomatic operator with fluent English and broad experience in dealing with the United States.

The ascension of Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, 57, to replace Li Zhaoxing as China's top diplomat was considered unlikely to bring major foreign policy changes. Important foreign affairs decisions traditionally have been taken in senior ranks of the Chinese Communist Party; the foreign minister is assigned to carry them out.

But Yang's several tours at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, most recently as ambassador from 2001 to 2005, have identified him as a key envoy in the U.S.-China relationship that President Hu Jintao has made his most important foreign policy concern. His elevation was viewed as a sign of Hu's emphasis on keeping ties with the United States as friendly as possible.

Shi Yinhong, of the People's University Center for American Studies, noted that Yang has been personally identified with the increasingly close cooperation between Washington and Beijing in recent years. For instance, soon after arriving in Washington as ambassador in 2001 he was given credit for lowering tensions that had risen after a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter near Hainan island.

"I think he has engaged in this line of work for a long time, in improving U.S.-China relations," Shi said. "I think this kind of experience, and his own thinking, are likely to be good for U.S.-China relations. This has shaped his outlook."

As vice foreign minister, Yang has been in charge of Latin America and foreign-policy aspects of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. A Shanghai native, he trained at the London School of Economics. The official New China News Agency said he is an alternate member of the Communist Party's 350-strong Central Committee.

Li, the outgoing minister, at 66 had passed the traditional retirement age for China's ministry-level officials, although senior party leaders often stay in place much longer. He had been expected to step down as part of government shifts likely to take place after the 17th Communist Party Congress next fall.

It was not clear why Hu accelerated the schedule. Two other ministries, science and technology and land and resources, also got new heads.

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