Is China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally going to get some muscle?


China’s foreign ministry has long been known as the weakling among government departments — other organs, such as the Ministry of Commerce, have for years played more important roles in establishing and managing Chinese interests overseas in many areas. The country’s top diplomat, currently State Councilor Yang Jiechi, was not even one of the 25-highest ranking politicians in the country for decades until he was elevated to the Politburo in October last year.

That may be shifting, Bloomberg reports, as “Chinese leaders believe the country needs a more consolidated diplomatic structure” even if it risks weakening the Ministry of Commerce and other agencies. Here’s what might soon change:

  • Most agencies will “stop replacing staff in Chinese embassies by next year, giving ambassadors direct control over their portfolios.”
  • “The Foreign Ministry will wield a veto over financial and personnel decisions at embassies.”
  • China will continue on a clear budgetary course to match the U.S., which last year spent $27.1 billion on international programs, far ahead of the $8.5 billion China spent on foreign affairs. But the change is striking: China’s budget is twice the size it was just five years ago, while the U.S. budget shrunk 30 percent in the first year of the Trump presidency. “Morale of the diplomats in the U.S. foreign service is at an all-time low,” said Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia.