BEIJING: Wang Yi this week returns as China's foreign minister, stepping into a job he held for almost a decade in the face of the month-long absence of deposed diplomat Qin Gang.
A veteran politician who also serves as the Communist Party's top foreign policy official, he relinquished the foreign minister role and assumed the more senior position of Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission just seven months ago.
The past month had already seen the 69-year-old Wang assume some of Qin Gang's responsibilities as foreign minister, including travelling to South Africa this week to attend a BRICS meeting on security affairs in Johannesburg.
A fluent speaker of Japanese and English, he is seen as a safe pair of hands with a wealth of diplomatic experience at a time of potential crisis at the very top of China's foreign ministry.
Wang is a familiar face in international diplomatic circles, and his return to the position of foreign minister is not seen as portending a major shift in Chinese policy.
"Wang Yi is one of the world's most experienced and recognisable diplomats," Ryan Hass, a Brookings scholar on China and a former US National Security Council official, told AFP.
"He will ably carry forward China's foreign policy."
Rise to the top
A Beijing native of humble stock, much of Wang's childhood coincided with the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous political period that saw him sent to the far-flung northeastern province of Heilongjiang for manual labour.
After the upheaval of that era came to a close, Wang began at Beijing International Studies University, where he started to hone his foreign affairs expertise. He officially joined the Communist Party in 1981.
He then married into a family with lofty connections -- his wife's father once served as a top foreign policy aide to Premier Zhou Enlai. And in 1997, the budding diplomat arrived in Washington for an academic year at Georgetown University, where he was an associate visiting scholar.
He then served as ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2007 after previously serving as a diplomat in China's embassy in Tokyo from 1989 to 1994. In 2008 he was put in charge of Taiwan affairs.
Following President Xi Jinping's anointing as head of the Communist Party, newly appointed foreign minister Wang Yi set about fashioning new diplomacy to match the leader's more assertive and domineering governance style.
In 2016, Wang famously berated a Canadian journalist who asked a critical question during a press conference in Ottawa -- an incident that gained attention in both China and the West and presaged the more aggressive tone that Beijing's diplomacy would soon take. "Your question is full of prejudice and arrogance," he said. "Don't ask these kinds of irresponsible questions again."
In 2018, he began a five-year term as a state councillor, an influential position at the top echelons of China's complex political apparatus.
Wang has also earned a reputation as a tough negotiator, having most recently held contentious discussions with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing.
In response to the news that Wang had been named again as China's foreign minister, Blinken Wednesday noted that his relationship with the diplomat has lasted over a decade.
But in contrast to his bluster in dealings with foreign counterparts, Wang is known to be well-liked within China's foreign ministry. State media and online admirers have even lavished praise on his looks, with his peppery hair and piercing eyes earning him a reputation as a "silver fox."