China ambassador Wu Jianmin’s death sparks foreign policy debate

by Vincent Ni/ 22 June 2016/ BBC.COM

The sudden death of former Chinese ambassador and influential foreign policy “dove” Wu Jianmin has sparked shock and mourning. But, more unusually, it has also prompted a rare moment of reflection in China over how the country should deal with its foreign policy challenges. The BBC’s Vincent Ni explains why.

Who was Wu Jianmin?

Mr Wu was one of China’s most senior and outspoken diplomats. He served as an interpreter for Mao Zedong and his premier Zhou Enlai, and was also China’s ambassador to France, the Netherlands and the United Nations in Geneva at various points in his career.

Before his retirement, he also headed China’s Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, which has trained generations of Chinese diplomats.

Following his death in a car crash in Wuhan on Saturday, Mr Wu’s views have been the subject of discussion on the Chinese internet and among China’s intellectuals and foreign policy commentators.

On Weibo and Wechat, two of China’s most popular social media platforms, the hashtag #WuJianminDiedinCarCrash# was read more than 180 million times; with over 24,000 comments.

Why has his death sparked such a reaction?

Mr Wu’s views have not always coincided with those of China’s leaders. He has argued that China should keep a low-profile in the international arena – a popular policy during the 1990s and 2000s, which many analysts believe has been altered by President Xi Jinping’s more assertive stance since 2012.In a 2014 TV debate with a hawkish major general, Mr Wu warned that those who engage in conflicts will themselves be dragged into trouble. More recently, he also pointed out that China’s parochial nationalism is rising and urged China to reject it for continued progress.

“Narrow-minded nationalists often tend to tout military confrontation when dealing with territorial disputes, as opposed to Deng Xiaoping’s advice to ‘set aside differences and pursue joint development’,” Mr Wu wrote in a recent article.

Mr Wu has also shared his opinions with Western media. In a rare interview with the BBC’s Hard Talk programme in London last year, he said that China is not a superpower, nor is it in a position to replace the United States.Read more…

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