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Latin America Expert Takes Over as Head of Chinese Friendship Association

A seasoned Chinese diplomat with a focus on Latin America is the new chief of a semi-official body tasked with promoting people-to-people exchanges with other nations. Yang Wanming, 59, was introduced as president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) at a gathering it hosted on Monday. He was attending the opening ceremony of a five-day event aimed at boosting youth exchanges between China and Russia, according to a post published on the association’s WeChat account on Tuesday. Yang has replaced Lin Songtian, a veteran diplomat and Africa expert who had been president of the association since 2020.

The CPAFFC is a semi-official association whose mission – to expand friendly exchanges between China and other countries – is also part of Beijing’s broader diplomatic strategy. It has played a role in efforts to improve ties with the United States through people-to-people exchanges at a time when Beijing and Washington are at loggerheads over many issues, from trade and technology to the South China Sea and Taiwan.

That includes an event it organised in February 2022, which was attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and former US Treasury secretary Jacob Lew. It focused on the joint communique agreed to by the US and China in Shanghai 50 years ago that marked the start of a thaw in bilateral ties after two decades of confrontation.

Yang’s appointment comes as Beijing is seeking closer economic and security ties with nations in Latin America such as Brazil, moves which have been met with suspicion and concern in Washington. China is now Latin America’s second-largest trading partner after the United States, according to data released in June by the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank.

The region is also part of a diplomatic tussle with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory. Honduras switched formal diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in March, leaving self-ruled Taiwan with just 13 official allies – seven of them in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Beijing has traditionally appointed public figures or diplomats well-versed in China’s foreign policy to head up the CPAFFC. Yang’s predecessor Lin was previously the Chinese ambassador to Liberia, Malawi and South Africa. Li Xiaolin, the daughter of former premier Li Peng, was CPAFFC president before him and did a stint in the US embassy in the 1990s.

Yang has decades of experience in Latin American affairs. He was China’s ambassador to Brazil, Argentina and Chile in the 2010s and had previously worked at the foreign ministry’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs since the mid-2000s. In April last year, Yang was named as the deputy director of China’s top government agency overseeing Hong Kong affairs.

Source: SCMP