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Decoding China: China's top diplomat polishes image at MSC24

Dang Yuan
February 23, 2024

In what could be his last appearance on the global stage, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi used last week's Munich Security Conference to portray China as a guarantor of global stability.

Wang Yi speaks at the MSC podium
Wang Yi is a veteran of Chinese diplomacy, but there are rumors he would soon be replacedImage: Frank Hofmann/DW

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi seemed to enjoy the international attention at the Munich Security Conference last Saturday when he stepped, slightly late, onto the main stage.

His message was clear: Beijing's cooperation is needed in finding solutions to global problems.

Wang has been in the diplomatic service of the People's Republic of China for four decades. From 2013 to the end of 2022, he was China's foreign minister and enjoyed the full confidence of the party and state leadership close to President Xi Jinping. When his successor, Qin Gang, was unexpectedly dismissed from politics in July 2023 for unknown reasons, Wang returned to the post.

Appearing once again at MSC as China's top diplomat, Wang had the chance to set the tone and agenda for a conversation on "international order" in front of his German and American counterparts in the audience.

Before beginning in Chinese, Wang smiled and said in English: "There will be simultaneous interpretation." Wang not only wanted to be heard, but also understood.

Ukraine, Gaza in focus at Munich Security Conference

China as a 'stabilizer'

"Regardless of the changes in the international climate, China, as a responsible major nation, will always maintain the continuity and stability of its most important political measures," Wang said. "In a turbulent world, China is the stabilizer."

Wang then quickly went through main foreign policy topics in different parts of the world: China does not want confrontation with the US, but cooperation on an equal footing; Russia is China's most important strategic partner; and Beijing wants to cooperate more closely with Europe economically, free from geopolitical and ideological disruptive factors.

"Europe is playing an increasingly important role for China," said Peter Qiu, founder and research director of the Center for Globalization in Hong Kong. According to reports in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to travel to China in April.

Europe as Beijing's ideal partner

European powers are aligning their policy on China with the course set by the US under President Joe Biden, said Qiu, who received his doctorate from the University of Tübingen in southern Germany. But Biden could be out of office this time next year. 

"With Donald Trump, new tensions would very likely arise between Washington and Europe," Qiu told DW. Beijing is looking ahead and is intensively working on improving ties with European countries, he added.

During his MSC talk, China's top diplomat Wang touched on the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East. He said China was committed to peace talks to overcome the "Ukraine crisis." In the Middle East conflict, China supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that would peacefully coexist with Israel.

However, Washington wants to see more commitment from China to quickly end these two wars, Qiu said, pointing to the conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Wang on the sidelines of the MSC.

"Obviously nothing substantial has been achieved. Discussed, but no tangible agreement. That's what you read between the lines of the press release from the two foreign ministries," he said.

EU-China summit gets underway in Beijing

Will China soon have a new top diplomat?

After visiting Germany, the 71-year-old Wang also traveled to Madrid and Paris. This European tour could be his last major appearance on the global stage.  

MSC Chair Christoph Heusgen invited Wang back to Munich next year. However, Wang's answer was evasive.

"China will certainly send a high-ranking delegation to Munich," he said. "The Munich Security Conference is a good platform to discuss peace and stability with all countries."

Wang is also not attending this week's G20 summit in Brazil, where China is instead being represented by his deputy.

Rumors from Beijing are sparse, but they indicate Wang's successor is already waiting in the wings. Some media outlets have reported that Liu Jianchao, the Communist Party's international minister since 2022, is set to become China's foreign minister after the People's Congress in March.

Liu Jianchao seated at a table with other diplomats
In January, Liu Jianchao (center) visited Washington for talks with Secretary of State Antony BlinkenImage: Susan Walsh/AP/picture alliance

Liu Jianchao studied in Beijing and Oxford and speaks excellent English. He has served as a government spokesman, and later, as the ambassador to Indonesia and the Philippines.

His first experience of working in the US was in January, when he visited Washington. During the visit, Liu met with Blinken and spoke before the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Decoding China" is a DW series that examines Chinese positions and arguments on current international issues from a critical German and European perspective.

This article was originally written in German.