Who's who in the Chinese Embassy?
A bonus Briefing
This Brief will examine the Chinese Embassy in London. There has been surprisingly little analysis on, or apparent interest in, the Embassy and its staff, given the role it plays in shaping China’s narrative in the United Kingdom.
As always, if you find what we do of interest, please do share it on socials or forward to colleagues. It helps us significantly.
Ministers Yang and Ma
The Chinese Embassy has some 115 staff listed on the most recent Foreign Embassy guidance, and has a further 15 Principal Officials and Heads of Sections. Interestingly, the South China Morning Post notes:
Most of the estimated current 115-plus personnel … work in cramped offices, and many are believed to live on the 65,000 square metre site, or close by in converted mews houses, sleeping in triple bunk-bedded rooms – accommodation that resembles a Chinese university’s halls of residence.
While Ambassador Liu Xiaoming appeared prominently across print and broadcast media during his record-breaking tenure, following his departure, two Embassy staff have become more active. Both names will be familiar to readers; they are Chargé d'Affaires Minister Yang Xiaoguang, and Minister Ma Hui.
Minister Yang is a recent arrival at the Chinese Embassy; we first spotted him on 14 February this year. At the time we wrote:
During a Chinese New Year reception, Chargé d’Affaires Chen Wen told the audience she would be leaving her post in the coming weeks to be replaced by Minister Yang Xiaoguang.
Yang appears to have been a former Political Counsellor at the Chinese Mission to the EU, and has a history of delivering keynote speeches at various EU-China events. His arrival may be interpreted as China bringing in an EU expert to complement incoming Ambassador Zheng Zeguang’s knowledge of the American system.
In the absence of the new Ambassador (Zheng Zeguang is still to arrive in London), Minister Yang had a busy first month. Summoned to the Foreign Office to speak to Minister for Asia Nigel Adams last week following China’s sanctions against five British MPs, he has given multiple live interviews to British broadcasters justifying China’s strategies in Xinjiang and beyond.
Yang has been active in the business community, speaking and appearing at a range of events hosted by The 48 Group, China Chamber of Commerce in the UK, and the China-Britain Business Council. He typically stresses the need for a healthy UK-China relationship and responds to audience questions. In his most recent appearance, at an online briefing on "Two Sessions" 2021, he delivered a keynote speech entitled New Vision, New Blueprint and New Opportunities. Per the Embassy readout, he said:
"A healthy and sound China-UK relationship is in the common interests of both countries and peoples". "China is not a 'threat' or 'systemic competitor', but a partner for cooperation. It is true that China and the UK differ in political and social system, but this should not prevent the two countries from carrying out cooperation. The world is facing urgent issues and common challenges, such as fighting the pandemic, tackling climate change and safeguarding energy security. There is no reason why China and the UK should abandon cooperation and risk confrontation. Cooperation is the only choice."
"It is my hope that my briefing today will help strengthen confidence in the prospects of China's open development, in the future of China-UK mutually beneficial cooperation, and in the major trend of economic globalization. I look forward to working with you to promote win-win cooperation between China and the UK, and write a new chapter for world peace and development," Yang said.
Since his arrival, the Embassy has provided a slightly fuller CV:
1997-2000 Desk Officer and Attaché, Department of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
2000-2004 Attaché and Third Secretary, Embassy of China in Australia
2004-2006 Third Secretary and Second Secretary, Department of Personnel, MFA
2006-2009 Deputy Division Director, Department of European Affairs, MFA
2009-2011 Second Secretary and First Secretary, Mission of China to the European Union
2011-2015 Division Director, Department of European Affair, MFA
2015-2019 Counsellor and Minister Counsellor, Chinese Mission to the European Union
2019-2021 Counsellor/Deputy Director General, Department of European Affairs, MFA
2021- Minister and First Staff Member, Embassy of China in the UK
In 2020, according to reports, Yang (referred to as “a Europe specialist at the Chinese foreign ministry” said that should the EU publish a report accusing China of spreading Covid-19 disinformation, it would make Beijing “very angry”. He also accused European officials of trying to please “someone else” - something the EU diplomats understood to be a reference to Washington.
A year prior, Yang’s speech on the Digital Silk Road at a 2019 conference provides little in the way of personal insight, but offers two jokes on the lucrative online Single’s Day:
There are also many jokes on this online promotion day. Many people try their best to prevent their wives from excessive spending online on 11 November. Since most wives wait till 12 o’clock at night on 10 November, and continue purchasing online for the whole day, husbands are advised to think out some way to stop their wives. And finally they have one. That is, they use their wives’ online users name and online bank accounts to log on 2 hours before the promotion begins, but intentionally input with wrong passwords for three times. Then husbands can feel safe and go to bed because their wives online account will be locked for 24 hours and they are helpless in making the online purchase.
Another joke goes like this. At midnight on 10 November, the husband returned home from extra work feeling so tired. Then he found a piece of paper on the desk written by his wife, saying: Dear Husband, I moved so many goods into the shopping cart for the whole afternoon. I’ve done so much labour, and so tired I am. Now I have to go to sleep. Please just finish the easiest part of the shopping then. Don’t make me disappointed. Dinner is in the Microwave oven. Love you. The husband went into the bedroom and saw his wife fell into deep sleep. So tired was his wife, he burst into tears, feeling sorry for her. Then he came silently to the computer, and click the mouse on the icon “payment for all.” He realized next month he would have to work extra hours again.
Yang has two daughters and does not appear to be on social media.
Minister Ma has been at Embassy since 2017 and is its most active official on social media. With a significant number of televised interview appearances under his belt, he seems to have stepped back from British press following the arrival of the more senior Minister Yang.
Although few details of his earlier career exist online, Ma was posted in London between 1999-2001 and studied Public Policy in University College London as a postgraduate between 2005-2006. He was Director General of the Bureau for North American, Oceanian, UK and Nordic Affairs before taking up his current role.
Ma often uses his Twitter account to retweet or post his own accusations against British politicians or the BBC who, in his view, spread fake news on Xinjiang, the coronavirus origin or China at large. Indeed, his account was mentioned without being named recently in the House of Commons following his tweeting towards an MP and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
Ma recently told an interviewer that he joined the platform because:
Social media has become an important source of information for many people including young people, and I wanted to try it out … [and see] how Twitter works. While reading the mainstream media in the UK, I found that China, the way they portray it, is vastly different from the China I know and experienced, so with an aim to promote some understanding of what’s really happening in China I went on Twitter.
His Twitter may be described as typical in its ‘Wolf Warrior’ (a label he would not agree with) approach to diplomacy - Ma is an active poster.
He also recently had a video meeting with the BBC’s Head of Newsgathering Jonathan Munro and BBC’s Head of Foreign News Andrew Roy to discuss the company’s coverage of Xinjiang.
He was active throughout the Hong Kong protests, speaking to both international and Chinese media on the subject.
Ma has spoken on topics such as the illegal ivory trade (his speech was shared in the Independent) and the Belt and Road Initiative at length. Like Minister Yang, he has strong ties to the UK’s private and cultural sector, travelling across the country prior to the pandemic to appear at various events such as the UK-China Regional Leaders Summit or attending an event to celebrate the UK’s first electric sports car.
Here’s a fun titbit - Ma is named in an email likely obtained under a Freedom of Information Request concerning his visit to Cardiff University. Minister Ma is married.
Principal Officials and Heads of Sections
The Embassy lists further key staff, and we have included those below only if we could find background on their careers or anything of interest.
Defence Attaché: Mr. Su Guanghui (Major General).
Led a peacekeeping mission in Mali before arriving at the Embassy, having previously served in the Embassy in America. In a speech in 2019 to celebrate the PLA’s 92nd anniversary, he said: “As an important part of the bilateral relations between China and UK, relations between the two armed forces have shown good momentum. Substantial exchanges and cooperation have been conducted in multiple fields and on different levels. Looking ahead, we are willing to work with our British colleagues to strengthen our strategic communication and deepen our pragmatic cooperation, making joint efforts to generate more 'positive energy' for the 'Golden Era' of the China-UK relations, and more importantly, for the regional and global peace and development."
Had an appearance in the British media after saying: “If the US and UK join hands in a challenge or violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, that would be hostile action”.
Minister for Economic & Commercial Affairs: Ms. Bao Ling
Served as Head and Director General for the Quota and License Administrative Bureau and Deputy Director General for the Department of Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Commerce of China from 2007 to 2018. Has a background in the areas of foreign trade promotion, import/export monitoring of major raw materials and farm products and bilateral trade negotiations, since joining the Ministry of Commerce in 1987. She holds a Master’s degree in economics. As the Minister Counsellor, head of the Economic and Commercial Section at the Chinese Embassy, Ms.Bao focuses on promoting two way trade and investments between the UK and China.
Minister Counsellor: Mr. Yang Xiaokun
Mr Yang has formerly held various position at the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva and regularly represented the PRC in the Human Rights Council.
Minister Counsellor for Science and Technology Affairs: Mr. Jiang Sunan
From 1994 to 2015, Mr. Jiang worked as Second Secretary for Science and Technology in the Chinese Embassy in Sweden, Consul (First Secretary) for Science and Technology in Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, Consultant in the Department of International Cooperation, Director and then Deputy Director General in the Department of Personnel of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. He graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, WUXI Institute of Light Industry in 1982. After that, he was engaged in R&D and teaching in enterprises and universities, and also served in local governments. He holds a MSc in Management from Peking University School of Government.
Minister Counsellor for Consular and Overseas Chinese Affairs & Consul General: Mr. Tong Xuejun
Minister Counsellor for Press and Public Affairs: Ms. Zeng Rong
Serves as the spokesperson for the Embassy, and has her byline on a series of letters to prominent publications alleging unfair or biased coverage. (Economist letter following comments on Xinjiang in 2018, Financial Times letter following comments on Taiwan in 2020, Economist letter following comments on Covid-19 in 2020)
Counsellor for Political Affairs: Mr. Zhang Limin
Previously served as the Consulate General in Edinburgh as Deputy Consul General.
Counsellor for Policy Research: Mr. Feng Jialiang
Has worked with the FCDO and Manchester University as part of the ‘UK-China Diplomatic Dialogue’ established by the University in 2019.
Located at 49/51 Portland Place and established in 1877, the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom (former Chinese Legation) is the first diplomatic mission abroad in the history of China. In addition, there are Chinese consulates-general in Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast. The Departments within the Embassy itself are also split across the city.
The Embassy writes of its history:
After the Opium War, Britain intensified its exploitation of China. Having occupiedMyanmar, Britian (sic) increasingly keen to make forays into Southwest China and attempted to open a route from Myanmar to China's southwester frontier Yunnan, , before reaching the hinterland of China. In 1874, the British government commissioned an exploring team of over 200 people, led by Horace Browne, to enter into Yunnan from Myanmar to survey the terrain and traffic conditions in that area. The British Minister to China Thomas Wade sent interpreter Augustus Raymond Margary to China-Myanmar border to meet the team. Margary set off in Shanghai, travelling through provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan and arrived at Bhamo in Myanmar on January 17, 1875, to meet with the exploring team. In January 19, Margary led the team to Yunnan. On January 22, they were caught in a conflict with local people on their way to Tengyue. Margary was killed and Browne and others were forced back to Bhamo. This was the sensational"Margary Affair", or "Dian Affair". It prompted the Qing government to establish diplomatic missions abroad.
The British government seized upon the incident to blackmail and put pressure on the Qing government , seeking greater exploitation of China. Under the pressure of the British government, the Qing government had to sign on September 13, 1876 the unequal treaty to settle the "Margary Affair" – the Chefoo Convention. The Convention contained 16 articles in three parts, one of which obliging China to pay 200,000 taels of silver in indemnities to compensate the victims' families and reimburse the British government of the costs incurred to settle the case. China must send an imperial envoy to Britian to make an apology to the British Queen. Due to the pressure from the British side and considerations on the needs of foreign relations, the Qing government decided to send Guo Songtao, the then Fujian Provincial Surveillance Commissioner (按察使 Anchashi), who advocated Westernization reforms and was known as being proficient in foreign affairs, to Britian to "apologize" and establish the post of Minister to Britain, and appointed Liu Xihong as Vice Minister.
On December 2, 1876, Guo Songtao and other more than 30 people, including his wife Liang, Vice-Minister Liu Xihong, Counsellor Li Shuchang, Interpreter Fung Yi, De Ming and Halliday Macartney (British, who later was promoted to Counsellor of the Chinese Legation in the UK and was knighted by Queen Victoria. He masterminded the entrapping of Sun Yat-sen inthe Chinese Legation in 1896), departed by boat from Shanghai, arrived on January 21, 1877 at Southampton, a port city in southern Britain, and then took train to London. Before Guo and his party arrived in Britain, Scottish James Duncan, the then Director of London Office of the Chinese Customs Service, had rented Portland Avenue 49.Upon arrival in London, Guo and his party stayed in this five-story building constructed 100 years ago. In February 7, Guo had an audience with Queen Victoria, in which he made a formal apology on the Margary Affair and presented his credentials to become the first Chinese diplomatic envoy. He held the office for 3 years and 2 months. 49 Portland thus became the premises of China's first diplomatic mission in the history - the Chinese Legation (later Chinese Embassy), and has been in use ever since.
The Embassy has been the home to many events, as well as protests. Perhaps its most famous guest (as mentioned above) was the provisional first president of the Republic of China Sun Yat Sen, who spent time at the pleasure of Qing government detained in the Embassy in 1896.
In 2018, the PRC confirmed the purchase of the old Royal Mint in Tower Hamlets for £204m, in a deal overseen by a close advisor of the Prime Minister, Eddie Lister.
The South China Morning Post notes:
When China bought Britain’s former money-printing site, “the Chinese believed they would enjoy some kind of diplomatic immunity from Boris [Johnson, Britain’s prime minister] and fast-track through planning”, says a planning insider with knowledge of the project.
At the time, Ambassador Liu told an audience:
The River Thames is not far from here and has quietly flowed for centuries, giving birth to the British civilisation and adding splendour to the ‘crown jewels’ of world civilisations. The Thames today is bearing witness to the historic moment of the transfer of the new diplomatic premises of the Chinese embassy in the UK. It is a new face of China in the new era, to write a new chapter for a China-UK golden era.
The South China Morning Post adds:
At the time, the purchase was seen by many as a coup for China, not only for the Royal Mint’s prime location, but for the fact that much of the profit made from the opium trade that led to China’s “century of humiliation” was processed and recycled there, to bolster the empire and shape the first-world economy Britain remains today.
The planned construction of the new Embassy, which would be the biggest Chinese Embassy in Western Europe, has caused upset among some. John Biggs, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, wrote to then Ambassador Liu to express how “reports about the situation in Xinjiang are of huge concern to our diverse borough which of course includes a large number of Muslim residents, in light of your government’s plan to move its embassy in the UK to Tower Hamlets” last year. Ambassador Liu responded with:
…a taught riposte …telling him in no uncertain terms to butt out of China’s internal affairs and to rein in his protesting residents and council members. Liu told Biggs that he would dispatch an envoy to educate the council leaders on China’s policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and signed off by saying locals should not seek to disrupt the new Chinese embassy development, noting that the British embassy in Beijing is also seeking redevelopment permission.
Readers will remember the multiple calls for the streets around the future Embassy to be renamed; a recently passed Council motion stated:
“This council resolves that Tower Hamlets council investigates whether roads or possibly new buildings near the location of the proposed Chinese embassy could be renamed appropriately as acts of solidarity with historic symbols or placenames of Chinese significance; for example Tiananmen Square, Tibet Hill, Uyghur Court, Hong Kong Road and/or Xiaobo Road (in memory of Liu Xiaobo).”
In October 2020, Hong Kong protesters burned a flag outside the current Embassy, prompting a statement:
Their actions amounted to grave desecration of the dignity of the country and the nation, and violation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the National Flag and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and threat to the security and safety of the premises and staff of the Chinese Embassy!
The Chinese Embassy expresses strong indignation and condemnation against such despicable acts! These acts fully reveal the ugly nature of “Hong Kong independence” elements as violent perpetrators and their true agenda of disrupting China and destabilizing Hong Kong! The action of these rioters is against the will of the Chinese nation and will never succeed! Their acts of secession and treason will be rejected by the history and the Chinese people!
The Chinese Embassy in the UK has lodged solemn representation to the UK police and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, urging the UK side to make swift investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice at an early date. The Chinese Embassy in the UK also urges the UK side to take concrete measures to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as the receiving state, safeguard the inviolability of diplomatic and consular missions, and ensure the security, safety and dignity of the premises and staff of the Chinese Embassy and Consulates-General in the UK.
Worth an estimated £750m and covering 700,000 square feet, it will be able to accommodate a significant number of officials.
The Embassy is active on Twitter.
That’s it for this week’s admittedly niche Brief. Have a restful weekend, and please do get in touch to share your views: firstname.lastname@example.org