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German ambassador to China dies

September 6, 2021

Jan Hecker, Germany's ambassador to Beijing, had only been on the job for a few days before he died. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there was "no evidence" that the death was linked to Hecker's diplomatic role

Jan Hecker
Hecker had only been in the role for a matter of daysImage: Getty Images/A. Berry

Jan Hecker, the German ambassador to China and a confidant of Angela Merkel, has died after only a few days in the ambassadorial role, the Foreign Ministry announced on Monday morning.

"It is with deep sadness and dismay that we learned of the sudden death of the German ambassador in China," the ministry said in a statement. 

Hecker and his family arrived in Beijing in August, and he had submitted his diplomatic credentials and had begun work at the end of the month.

'No evidence' death linked to ambassadorship 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the DPA news agency Monday, "based on the circumstances of the death, we have no indications that Jan Hecker's passing was related in any way at all to his professional role as German ambassador in Beijing."

Maas also expressed his condolences on Twitter, saying he was "deeply shocked" by Hecker's sudden passing. He added that the Foreign Ministry has lost an "outstanding and valued" colleague. 

The ministry has yet to provide further details as to the cause of death. 

Hecker's deputy, Frank Rückert, will take over ambassadorial duties for the time being. 

Merkel confidant

Chancellor Angela Merkel released a statement Monday morning expressing her condolences.

"I am profoundly shaken by Jan Hecker's death," the statement said. "I mourn for a highly valued, longstanding adviser of deep humanity and outstanding expertise."

Before taking up the Beijing post last month, Hecker had been a senior foreign policy adviser to the chancellor.

After joining Merkel's chancellery office in 2015, Hecker worked at the head of a newly-formed team coordinating refugee policy . During the so-called migrant crisis of 2015, Hecker was instrumental in trying to realize Merkel's plans to take in hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers, under her "We can do this" ("Wir schaffen das") motto.

This helped push Hecker closer into Merkel's inner circle. 

"I think with gratitude of our work together and am happy to have been so closely tied to him for years. My deepest sympathy goes out to his wife, his children and his other loved ones in their immeasurable grief," Merkel's statement said. 

International condolences

In 2017, Hecker was made head of the foreign, security and development policy department at the chancellery, a role in which he would accompany the chancellor on her travels. Only a few months prior to taking up his position in China, Hecker was seen at Merkel's side at the G7 summit in Cornwall, when she met with US President Joe Biden for the first time for lengthy discussions.

UK G7 2021 Cornwall | Biden, Merkel und Jan Hecker
Jan Hecker accompanied Angela Merkel to her meeting with Joe Biden at the G7 Summit.Image: Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung/REUTERS

Hecker was also frequently sent to Turkey and the West Balkans in his role as adviser to the chancellor.

"He made significant contributions to Turkish-German relations at critical times and sought to make Germany a strong voice and a relevant force for good in international relations," said Ibrahim Kalin, presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey.

"Anyone who has known him will testify to his competence, professionalism and deep humanity," Kalin told DW in a written statement in memory of Hecker. "He was a man of conviction and believed in ideas and principles. Even when we disagreed, we disagreed with reason and taste. Our friendship ran deeper than our political differences."

In spring 2018, a few months after taking on his new role as adviser to the chancellor, Hecker traveled to the western Balkans. It was a trip designed to show that Germany cared and was committed to engagement with this part of Europe.

"He managed to juggle various foreign policy crises and issues around the world and still found time for North Macedonia and the Balkans," said Nikola Dimitrov, deputy prime minister for European affairs of North Macedonia, who worked closely with Hecker. "He firmly believed in the European future of our region and got to the bottom of our problems attentively and reliably, wisely, honestly and quickly," he told DW.

"He was not only a pleasant interlocutor, but he also understood the Balkans very well and was a friend of the entire region, who sometimes also voiced the unpleasant. We will miss this voice," said Artur Kuko, Albanian ambassador in Berlin.

Hecker, who was born in 1967 in the northern German city of Kiel, is survived by his wife and three children.

September 9, 2021: This article has been updated with contributions from Julia Hahn and Anila Shuka.

wmr, jsi, ktz/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)