Beijing Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Russia on Monday for the first trip by a senior Chinese official to Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine. A trip that also underlines the importance of this diplomat in the pursuit of the geopolitical goals of President Xi Jinping.
And finally: Russia. After a tour of several European capitals including Paris, a busy weekend at the Munich Security Conference, Wang Yi, China’s Diplomacy Master, arrived in Moscow on Monday, February 20.
This is the first visit by a senior Chinese official to Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022. A symbolically important trip for President Vladimir Putin who can thus demonstrate that he is not isolated on the international scene one year after the launch of his “special military operation” which earned him the condemnation of almost all Western countries.
A Xi Jinping loyalist
Wang Yi presents his trip to Russia as the culmination of his diplomatic marathon. “That’s where he should unveil the details of the peace plan he talked about in Munich. In other words, it is from Moscow that he makes the most important announcements, thereby indicating that in the eyes of Beijing, Russia is the partner of this initiative supposed to show a way out of the conflict”, analyzes Laurent Malvezin, China policy scholar and co-founder of Sinopole, a resource center on China.
But this sequence will not only serve to recall the strength of the ties that unite Beijing and Moscow, despite the war. She also confirms the influence of Wang Yi. For a week now, Beijing has only been speaking through its brand new director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office, the most prestigious post in Chinese diplomacy, to which Wang Yi was appointed on January 1, 2023.
For a regime that concentrates so much power in the hands of its omni-president, Xi Jinping, this monopoly on speaking out is rare. Especially since it is not about second-rate subjects. Wang Yi was tasked with improving Chinese relations with Europe, standing up to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken amid the diplomatic storm over the “spy balloons” affair, and “continuing to present himself as the main architect of a negotiated peace between Ukraine and Russia”, explains Marc Lanteigne, sinologist at the Arctic University of Norway.
This confidence placed by Xi Jinping hardly surprises informed sinologists, however. “Wang Yi is a long-time loyalist of the Chinese president and he has managed to remain as independent as possible from the other clans which compete to gain influence in Beijing”, underlines Marc Lanteigne.
This 69-year-old career diplomat “is not the son of … either, like other politicians, and is considered a hard worker”, specifies Laurent Malvezin. Wang Yi thus owes his career only to his own efforts, his own networks…and to Xi Jinping.
It has also already proven itself. Before reaching the highest post of diplomacy, Wang Yi had been Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2013. And between 2008 and 2013, he was in charge of the Taiwanese Affairs office, that is to say that the regime had already enough confidence in him “to manage one of the most sensitive and important files of Chinese politics”, underlines Laurent Malvezin.
His arrival at the top of the diplomatic hierarchy also illustrates the evolution of Xi Jinping’s geostrategic priorities. “Wang Yi speaks perfect Japanese, was Chinese ambassador to Japan and is a specialist in the Asia region, while his predecessor – Yang Jiechi – was a great connoisseur of the United States”, notes Marc Lanteigne.
An old “wolf soldier”?
“Yang Jiechi was the chief diplomat of calmer times when Beijing was above all looking to heal its relations with the United States. Wang Yi embodies a more enterprising China that wants to impose its influence in Asia, but not only”, continues the sinologist from the Arctic University of Norway.
Wang Yi has advocated more active diplomacy towards Middle Eastern countries, he has visited Africa several times and believes Beijing should play a bigger role in Central Asia.
He has also become a connoisseur of Russia over the years. “He forged ties with several Russian officials as Beijing’s representative to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an organization bringing together several Central Asian countries and dominated by China and Russia,” underlines Marc Lanteigne.
Wang Yi also embodies the change in tone of Chinese diplomacy. He is too old to belong to the group of “wolf soldiers”, these quadras of Chinese diplomacy who can be very vehement on social networks, but “he is just as quick to defend China aggressively”, assures Marc Lanteigne.
So in 2016, he got angry with a Canadian journalist who had raised the issue of the defense of human rights in China. This exit had led to a mini-diplomatic crisis with Canada, which had officially complained to Beijing about the less cavalier ways of their Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“Wang Yi wants to be treated as an equal everywhere, including in the United States,” notes Marc Lanteigne. He thus demanded that Washington stop its “sinophobia” during an interview in July 2022 with Antony Blinken. “Relations with China will remain at a standstill until this changes,” then assured the Global Times, an English-language pro-regime Chinese newspaper.
Influence in Europe via Russia
Tensions that also dominated the Munich Security Conference: Wang Yi strongly condemned the remarks of Antony Blinken, who suggested on Sunday that China was likely to supply “lethal weapons” to Russia for the help in his war against Ukraine.
“The US statement came as a surprise because China has no interest in supplying arms to Russia as it seeks to promote itself as a broker for peace in Ukraine and wants to improve its relations with countries like Ukraine. Germany and the UK. If China helped Russia militarily, it would take the risk of nullifying its efforts”, analyzes Marc Lanteigne.
For Laurent Malvezin, the American release represents above all a way of trying to counter the Chinese narrative of “peacemaker”. “Europe may want to reach out to Beijing to put pressure on Moscow and find a way out of the crisis in Ukraine, but in doing so, it leaves China its strategy of influence on the continent,” says this expert. Enough to give Washington cold sweats. Above all, according to experts interviewed by France 24, Wang Yi’s trip to Moscow can also be a way of preparing the ground for Xi Jinping’s next visit to Russia.
Source: France 24