China's new man for Europe
Wu Hongbo will be doing a lot of travelling in his new job. The 67-year-old has been China's special envoy for Europe (欧洲事务特别代表) since the beginning of November. From his base in Beijing, the career diplomat will be responsible, according to the Chinese foreign office, for deepening the "multidimensional, multi-layered and far-reaching cooperation" between China and the EU. The appointment of the veteran of European affairs to the newly created office has been seen as a gesture of goodwill, suggesting that China intends to devote more attention to EU relations in the coming year, despite or perhaps because of the ongoing trade conflict with the US.
Wu brings with him the right experience for the office. From 2009 to 2012 he served as ambassador in Berlin and has also worked as a diplomat in other West European cities. As under-secretary-general at the United Nations, the diplomat, who is loyal to the regime, refined China's smooth foreign policy rhetoric, in recent years getting it incorporated into official UN documents. Since taking office as European envoy, Wu has maintained this style, referring in speeches to the "community of shared destiny" of all people and praising the Silk Road Initiative as a "stabilizer for the world economy".
Born in Shandong Province in 1952, Wu, who studied in New Zealand and began his diplomatic career as a translator, describes himself as curious and open-minded. No matter where you go, "you can't pretend to be smarter than others," he once said in an interview. But Wu has his problems with the western media world. As ambassador to Germany he complained among other things about its lack of "objectivity". The diplomat does not shy away from difficult missions: in the late 1990s he was part of the negotiations with the UK on the return of Hong Kong to China.
Wu is modest, in a very Chinese way, when talking about his career. He has said he could not have made it to the top without the support of other people. Despite this reticence, he is pursuing a clear agenda: Wu wants to help shape China's rise. As early as 2018, in a speech to Chinese students, he said it was time for China to "create its own period of strategic opportunity". One thing is already certain - in the debates about an EU-China investment agreement, the 17+1 format (which is controversial in Europe), and the future of mutual relations, the new EU Commission will have to deal with a Chinese special envoy who, despite all his diplomacy, is very self-confident.