Opinion / Editorials

Voice of reason in foreign relations will be missed

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-20 07:32

Voice of reason in foreign relations will be missed

File photo of Wu Jianmin.[Photo/IC]

Prominent former diplomat Wu Jianmin's abrupt departure is a tremendous loss not only to his beloved ones, but also Chinese diplomacy.

He left us when his wisdom and advice are badly needed, but in very short supply.

In different offices as a career diplomat, even in retirement, Wu was a steadfast promoter of peace, dedicated to mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world.

When voices of reason are increasingly being overwhelmed by nationalist populism, when Chinese diplomacy is under increasing pressure to turn "hard", his was the voice of diplomatic rationalism.

Rational, modest, self-confident, and inclusive diplomacy is more conducive to creating a fine international environment for the country's development, he insisted.

He believed in speaking the truth and was not afraid to speak out, even when that meant offending "mainstream public opinion". What is truly worrying for China is not any natural catastrophes but that it loses its head and become beside itself, he once warned.

His advocacy of engagement with the existing international order, even with countries commonly perceived as adversaries, sounded out of tune with the "mainstream". So much so that his critics ridiculed him as an "old-school diplomat", and internet thugs cursed him as a "traitor".

He highlighted patience and tolerance for relations across the Taiwan Straits. His formula for Sino-US relations: Focus on cooperation, control differences, beware nationalism and populism.

Besides his success as a Chinese messenger in various capacities, communicating Chinese realities and concerns to foreign audiences, Wu took great pains to interact with the domestic public. He was on his way to addressing a group of business leaders when he died in an automobile accident.

He found the "weak-nation mentality" at home dangerous and spoke out against it persistently. Long-term weakness had brewed a special Chinese sensitivity to outsider criticism, he cautioned, and that is incompatible with the country's center-stage position today.

Wu repeatedly underlined the message that China must forsake narrow nationalism and stay the course on reform and opening-up if it aspires for further progress.

"Nationalists and populists may be correct about the challenges the country faces. But the prescriptions they give are wrong, and will lead China astray", he pointed out. Populism's threat lies in its opposition to reform, and nationalism's in its opposition to opening-up, he warned, and "populism often holds hostage those in power". It is thus even more dangerous when nationalism and populism join forces.

Despite his long retirement from public office, Wu never retired from fighting for what he believed was in the best interests of his country.


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