Wang Yi, Chinas newly-named foreign minister, has a reputation as
a brilliant and urbane diplomat. He is also a wily negotiator with
some tricks up his sleeve.
Ten years ago he was trying to persuade the Americans to sit down
alone with the North Koreans for talks on Pyongyangs nuclear
program, as North Korea wanted. Washington refused, and insisted
that the Chinese be present.
After a day of fruitless to-ing and fro-ing in Beijing, Mr. Wang
hosted a banquet for the three negotiating teams. Halfway through
the dinner he and his deputy stepped out to the toilet, they said.
Over the next 10 minutes, one by one, all the Chinese diplomats
slipped surreptitiously away from their banqueting tables. Before
they knew it, US negotiators found they were in a de facto bilateral
meeting with the North Koreans.
The Americans declined to talk about anything substantive, and
Wangs ploy failed, according to Japanese author Yoichi Funabashi,
who recounts the incident in his book The Peninsula Question.
But the sly maneuver illustrates what one acquaintance calls the
subtlety and flexibility of Wangs approach to diplomacy.
His expertise, his judgment and his style will lend him
authority, predicts Paul Evans, a professor of international
relations at the University of British Columbia in Canada. He will
be more than an implementer; he will be a shaper.
Unlike his two immediate predecessors at the head of the Foreign
Ministry, Wang is not a US specialist, although he spent six months
at Georgetown University in the late 1990s and speaks good English.
He speaks Japanese, however, like a native, according to people
who know him well. Wang has spent his career in Asia and is one of
Chinas foremost experts on Beijings major regional rival, Japan,
with whom Beijing is currently locked in a fierce territorial
dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea.
It is a signal to the region that they are putting an Asia
specialist in the job, says Professor Evans.
His knowledge of Japan is deep, but he is not necessarily soft on
Japan, adds Evans, who once hosted Wang at a dinner in his home, and
has met him often since. He is a firm Chinese nationalist.
'Learning from the peasantry'
Like many of his generation now rising to the top of Chinese
politics, Wang was a sent down youth, spending eight years during
the Cultural Revolution working on a farm in northeastern China,
learning from the peasantry.
He did not waste his time, recalls Wang Xiaoping, a classmate of
Wang Yis at university in Beijing where the two studied Japanese. …