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How Wang Yi Sees the World

China's foreign minister Wang Yi is the key decision-maker when it comes to China's relations with other countries, including Japan.



Wang Yi is China's top foreign affairs official and a member of the Communist Party's Politburo and Foreign Minister, speaks at a press conference on March 7, Beijing (© Sankei by Yasuto Tanaka)

Take a look at the truly remarkable travel itinerary of China's foreign minister, Wang Yi. In the first three months of 2024, he went to Brazil, Jamaica, France, Germany, Egypt, Tunisia, and the United States. His next destinations are Australia and New Zealand.

When meeting other high-level politicians, he generally tries to avoid direct confrontation and brushes off criticism. Instead, he takes every opportunity to lavish praise on Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party

In Wang Yi's view, Xi Jinping is guided by his "extraordinary political wisdom" and his ability, as the leader of a Marxist party, to spot deep historical forces at work. It is Xi who charts China's course. And it is Xi who "makes the impossible possible" as the nation "blazes a path to modernization and creates development miracles unseen in human history." 

Wang Yi joins invited guests after delivering a speech in commemoration of the 45th Anniversary of China-US Diplomatic Relations in Beijing on January 5, 2024. (©Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS)

Loyalty to the Party

Such loyalty to China's core leader has also been rewarded. Wang Yi returned to the role of foreign minister in 2023, following the mysterious dismissal of Qin Gang. Rumors at the time suggested sexual impropriety or even espionage.

Not surprisingly, Qin Gang was not mentioned during Wang Yi's press conference during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in February. Questions were carefully vetted so that nothing problematic was raised.

The event included a withering dismissal of the democratic process in Taiwan. Wang Yi said that elections held on the island in January "were just local elections in one part of China."

"The result does not change even in the slightest terms the basic fact that Taiwan is part of China," he said.

Taiwan rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims. Its president-elect, Lai Ching-te, is regarded by Beijing as a separatist and "troublemaker."


Asked about China's slowing economic growth, Wang Yi responded: "Spreading pessimistic views on China will end up harming oneself, and misjudging China will result in missed opportunities." 

He added: "China prospers through interaction with the world and the world is better off when China does well."

Managing Japan

So what kind of interaction does Wang Yi want China to have with Japan? 

During a speech delivered in Tokyo in 2019 before the lockdown caused by the pandemic, Wang Yi noted that many Chinese people enjoy taking holidays in Japan. In return, he invited Japanese people "to visit different parts of China's vast land and feel the rapid changes."

He told a story about a Japanese student he called Daichi Nakashima. The student, Wang said, wrote a letter to Xi Jinping saluting his achievements. President Xi sent a reply, noting that China and Japan are close neighbors separated by only a narrow strip of water.

Wang Yi emphasized ethnic similarity during a meeting with Japanese and South Korean guests in the summer of 2023.

In a video shared by Chinese state media, he told people attending a trilateral forum in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao that most Americans and Europeans can't tell China, Japan, and South Korea apart.

"No matter how blonde you dye your hair, how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become a European or American, you can never become a Westerner," he said. "We must know where our roots lie." 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shake hands as they meet on the side of the Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2024. (©REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Pool)

Ill-judged Remarks

Steve Tsang, Director of the SOAS China Institute in London, regards those comments as ill-judged.

Professor Tsang says: "It comes across as racist in its approach, even though the race here is based on a kind of pan-Asian one, rather than a strictly national one.  For any senior leader in an East Asian country to use Oriental people's physical features as a defining characteristic of them as one people, who should stand together against people of Caucasian heritage, reminds one of how Imperial Japan constructed the so-called Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. It totally ignores the fact that some East Asian countries - such as modern Japan - can rightfully take pride in their achievements as multi-party democracies, which champion the rights of the individual."

Another phrase that often crops up in Wang Yi's speeches is the need for countries to develop relations for "a new era". 

Professor Tsang says "This is code for transforming the US-dominated liberal international order into a Sino-centric order, creating a global environment in which China is strong economically and militarily. In the view of the Chinese Communist Party, a resurgent China is good for its neighbors and good for the world."

Courting the Global South

Another theme of Wang Yi's speeches is the idea that the US and its allies are trying to suppress China. They are interfering to hold back China's destined progress, he suggests.

Alongside this is a belief that the Global South, in which he includes China and Africa, is on the rise. It has the capacity to reshape the course of world history he suggests. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gives a speech at a meeting related to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In Beijing, February 22. (From the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website via Kyodo)

In March 2024, Wang Yi said that China and African countries have fought shoulder-to-shoulder against imperialism and colonialism. "They have supported each other in pursuit of development. They have always stood for justice in a changing international landscape," he claimed. 

Dr Chen Gang is the Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. He notes: "While China has become the second largest economy in the world, it still posits itself as a developing country and a part of the Global South. These Global South countries have similar viewpoints on international governance, such as the emphasis on poverty alleviation, building infrastructure, technology transfer and aid. The Global South is thus not just an economic concept. It also involves a country's political identity." 

A New Deputy Foreign Minister For the Global South

The deepening links between China and Africa were underlined on March 13 when Chen Xiaodong was named as a new foreign vice minister. He has just served a three-year stint as the envoy to South Africa. 

During a farewell meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa the week before, Chen Xiaodong hailed the "bond of camaraderie plus brotherhood" between the two countries. He claimed that bilateral ties had entered a "golden era" under his watch after Xi Jinping's 2023 state visit.


The Chinese president made four overseas trips in 2023. So far, no state visits have been announced for 2024. However, the Serbian president says he is hoping Xi Jinping will visit the Balkan nation soon. A trip to Europe could also include meetings in Paris and Brussels.


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays.

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