China Leadership Monitor

Of Successors, Memories, and Guidance: Qian Qichen Defines His Legacy

Friday, April 30, 2004

In advance of the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2002, some observers of China wondered who would succeed China's éminence grise in foreign affairs, Politburo member and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who was obligated to retire. Although he lacked the stature or political clout of Zhou Enlai or Chen Yi—foreign ministers in the 1950s and 1960s—Qian was credited with having been the principal architect of China's emergence from diplomatic isolation and disrepute in the wake of the 1989 disturbances and violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square. His low-key but dignified and professional management of China's principal foreign relations during the 1990s won him promotion to the State Council in 1991, to a vice premiership in 1993, and to the Politburo in 1998. Qian's quiet grace and unflappable mastery of China's diplomacy won him many admirers in the West, as well. Analysis of Beijing's present foreign policy leadership and the prominence given to his recent memoir on his years guiding China's foreign policy suggest that Qian retains significant influence.