As U.S. Culls Diplomats, China Is Empowering Its Ambassadors

Bloomberg News / 

While U.S. diplomats endure staff cuts and low morale, China’s own foreign service is undergoing a revival.

The ruling Communist Party has ordered a sweeping overhaul of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at making China a more effective global player, according to four people familiar with the matter. The plan calls for most agencies to stop replacing staff in Chinese embassies by next year, giving ambassadors direct control over their portfolios, said two of the people, who requested anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak to media.

The overhaul promises to create a more empowered diplomatic corps better able to represent China’s interests with one voice as they oversee more than a dozen trade deals, supervise infrastructure projects and manage loans to foreign countries. The Foreign Ministry will wield a veto over financial and personnel decisions at embassies, the four people said.

The shake-up comes as President Xi Jinping casts aside the party’s decades-old strategy to “hide” its strength and “bide” its time, exerting his country’s clout overseas with a $500 billion trade-and-infrastructure investment plan. It poses a direct challenge to the U.S. Department of State, which has been racked by departures, unfilled vacancies and internal push-back as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implements a private-sector-style “redesign” to reduce what he says is bureaucratic overlap.

China’s overhaul got rolling in January last year, when a reform committee that Xi heads urged the foreign ministry to “bolster unified coordination” and “forge a politically resolute, professionally exquisite, strictly disciplined foreign affairs corps.” He also elevated the country’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, to China’s powerful 25-member Politburo in October — the first ex-Foreign Ministry official reach that level in two decades.

“As China becomes more of a serious international player, it wants to prevent the risks of some employee or official from some government agency provoking some kind of international problem, anything from going out and getting drunk and behaving badly to representing Chinese foreign policy in a freelancing way,” Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, said, referring to changes announced over the past year. Read more…

 

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