Senior Chinese diplomat to visit South Africa in first trip since reshuffle

China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi attends a joint news conference with Federica Mogherini (not pictured), High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi will visit South Africa this week in the first foreign visit by a top official since China’s government reshuffle, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, offering details on a new role for the veteran envoy.

Yang was China’s top diplomat when he was State Councillor and is now a member of the ruling Communist Party’s 25-member Politburo. He will visit on Friday and Saturday as a special representative of President Xi Jinping, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

Yang, a fluent English speaker and former Chinese ambassador to the United States, currently has only a party and not government position.

There has been speculation in diplomatic circles about what he will do following the reshuffle, though the foreign ministry has said he will continue to play an important diplomatic role.

Yang will meet South African government and political party leaders to discuss plans for a summit later this year between China and African countries, as well as bilateral ties, Hua added.

Yang was appointed to the Politburo, the second-largest of the party’s three elite ruling bodies, in October after a party congress.

Yang, 67, remains secretary general of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group chaired by Xi, which is a top party body that directs and coordinates Chinese diplomacy, although the body is due to be re-named and the party has not said who will be on it.

The party is ultimately responsible for all government decisions and it is where real power lies.

Yang’s successor as state councillor, Wang Yi, is not a Politburo member but is on the Central Committee, the largest of the party’s decision-making bodies and a rung below the Politburo.

Wang’s new position was announced on Tuesday as part of a broader government reshuffle. Wang also remains foreign minister.