On top of his responsibilities will be taking CPEC forward.
In a break from the past, China has appointed an official from a provincial government, with a background in trade and religious issues, as its next envoy to Pakistan, a key posting usually reserved for its diplomatic cadre.
Nong Rong will be a rare Chinese foreign envoy who is not a diplomat, instead a political appointee who has risen through the ranks as an official in the state government of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, where he was responsible for the province’s international trade and religious affairs.
He is also a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament, as one of the province’s representatives to the legislature. Top of his responsibilities will be taking forward the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which President Xi Jinping has championed as a flagship under his Belt and Road Initiative.
Mr. Nong’s recent predecessors — Yao Jing, who is returning to Beijing two months short of completing his three-year tenure, Sun Weidong (the current envoy to India), Liu Jian and Luo Zhaohui — were all seasoned diplomats. China has previously made political appointments to foreign missions, usually drawing from officers from the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) International Liaison Department — responsible for the CPC’s relations with foreign political parties and also involved in policy making — or the United Front Work Department, which, as its name suggests, is tasked with allying with external actors outside the party, both at home and abroad, to “unite” them with the party’s agenda.
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Mr. Nong, a career provincial government official, technically hails from neither agency, although, according to a profile in State media, he has served as a Deputy Minister of the United Front Work Department in the Guangxi local government. The China Economic Daily reported he was, before his appointment to Pakistan, working as the director of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the province since December. Previously, he worked in the province’s Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Department, focusing on ASEAN countries. According to a State media profile, Mr. Nong holds a degree in nuclear physics from the elite Peking University, from where he graduated before joining the Guangxi provincial trade office.
Speaking in May, he highlighted Guangxi as a model where “all ethnic groups live together in harmony under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party”. According to a profile in State media, he is from the Zhuang minority group.
Pakistan is among the key postings for China’s diplomats, now seen by some Chinese analysts as Beijing’s only international ally, a country now referred to officially as China’s “iron brother”. It is a common practice for many Chinese diplomats to spend a term in Pakistan before being subsequently appointed to serve in India.
His appointment comes amid a spurt of diplomatic engagement between the “all-weather” allies. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday met with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi hours before his meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Moscow, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting. This followed Mr. Qureshi’s visit to China for a strategic dialogue on August 21.
Support for Pakistan
Mr. Wang said on Thursday China would “continue to provide support to Pakistan in fighting COVID-19 until the epidemic is defeated” and “stands ready to work with Pakistan to better develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, including conducting agricultural cooperation for the benefit of the people”.
The CPEC was also the focus of the strategic dialogue last month, following which both sides, in a statement, agreed on “continuing their firm support on issues concerning each other’s core national interests”.
China, in the statement, described Pakistan as its “staunchest partner in the region” and said it “firmly supports Pakistan in safeguarding its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, independently choosing a development path based on its national conditions, striving for a better external security environment and playing a more constructive role on international and regional affairs”.
It said both would “continue to firmly advance the construction of CPEC” and “ensure in-time completion of those projects under construction”.
The statement also said “the Pakistani side briefed the Chinese side on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir” while China “reiterated that the Kashmir… dispute should be resolved peacefully and properly through the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements” and “opposed any unilateral actions that complicate the situation”, echoing its statement last year on India’s reorganisation of J&K.