HONG KONG — As the United States pivots to Asia, lining up allies against China's rise, Beijing is pivoting right back, boosting its diplomatic offensive in the Asia Pacific by putting together a new foreign-policy team consisting of U.S. and regional specialists.
While the new appointments won't be formally announced by the National People's Congress, China's parliament, until mid-March, two senior party sources in Beijing have confirmed promotions for veteran diplomats Yang Jiechi, Wang Yi, and Cui Tiankai. Together, the appointments suggest that China wants to improve the optics of its relationship with the United States, if not the substance.
Yang, having run the Foreign Ministry for five years, will be promoted to State Councilor, one rung below vice premier. The 62-year-old fluent English speaker and former ambassador to the United States is expected to focus on big-picture strategies, including new thinking that will bolster China's influence in the key Asia-Pacific theater.
Day-to-day implementation of foreign policy will be in the hands of Foreign Minister-designate Wang Yi, 59, who spent his entire career at that ministry (except for the past five years, when he headed the ministerial-level Taiwan Affairs Office, tasked with managing the mainland's policy towards Taiwan). Wang, ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007 as well as a former director of the Foreign Ministry's Asia department, will be the first-ever Asia hand to become foreign minister. Previous holders of the post have been either Russia or U.S. specialists.
Cui, 60, a U.S. expert whose current post is vice foreign minister in charge of North American affairs, will become China's ambassador to the United States. Cui also has ample Asia experience. He previously succeeded Wang as ambassador to Tokyo, a post he held from 2007 to 2009.
While all three foreign-policy professionals have a reputation for favoring negotiation over bluster, it is far from clear that their appointment signals a change in the aggressive turn Beijing's policy has taken toward sovereignty disputes in its neighborhood.