The European Union will appoint Swedish diplomat Niclas Kvarnström as its new Asia Pacific chief, replacing the retired Gunnar Wiegand.
The Swede has confirmed he will take up his role in Brussels by the end of the year, following a short recruitment process that was narrowed to three candidates last month.
Kvarnström is currently the head of the Asia Pacific department of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and news of his appointment has been roundly welcomed by diplomats and officials.
Having joined the Swedish foreign ministry’s China desk in 2001, he went on to spend stints in Beijing and the United Nations, as well as desk jobs covering Central Asia. A Chinese speaker, he was Sweden’s ambassador to Singapore between 2018 and 2021.
As part of the Swedish government’s rotating presidency of the EU this year, he helped host an Indo Pacific Forum that was attended by senior ministers from India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and others. One diplomat familiar with his outlook noted that Kvarnström was an avowed transatlanticist.
He will take over from Wiegand, who retired this month having spent more than 30 years as an EU diplomat and official, the last seven of which were as managing director for Asia and the Pacific in the bloc’s External Action Service (EEAS), its diplomatic corps.
The other candidates on the three-person shortlist were Paola Pampaloni, Wiegand’s long-time deputy in the EEAS, and Baiba Braže, a seasoned Latvian diplomat who recently completed a three-year stint as deputy secretary general for public policy at Nato.
The personnel change comes at a crunch moment for EU-China relations. Officials are currently trying to nail down a date for a summit by the end of the year, with the expectation that it will take place in November.
A steady flow of senior EU officials are traveling to Beijing to lay the groundwork, including digital chief Vera Jourova, who is holding a “high-level digital dialogue” with vice-premier Zhang Guoqing on Monday, the first such meeting since 2020.
Trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis will visit later this month to discuss a range of thorny issues from China’s compliance with sanctions to an investigation launched into Beijing’s alleged subsidies for electric vehicles.
Top diplomat Josep Borrell will complete the set in October, before European Council and European Commission Presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing.
From an EU perspective, the main items on each agenda are Ukraine – and China’s perceived support for Russia – as well as economic security, as the bloc looks to wean itself off its dependencies on China.
Source: South China Morning Post