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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Niclas Kvarnström Appointed EU’s New Asia Pacific Chief

ChinaNiclas Kvarnström Appointed EU's New Asia Pacific Chief

In a significant reshuffle within the European Union’s diplomatic realm, Niclas Kvarnström, the former Swedish ambassador to Singapore, will soon take on the mantle of the EU’s Asia Pacific chief. He is set to replace the experienced Gunnar Wiegand, who has recently stepped down from the post.

Kvarnström, whose diplomatic journey is both rich and notable, has confirmed he will begin his tenure in Brussels before this year concludes. The decision follows a succinct recruitment procedure that witnessed three potential contenders last month.

Kvarnström’s Distinguished Career

Currently at the helm of the Asia Pacific department within the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kvarnström’s impending appointment has been received with a plethora of positive remarks from fellow diplomats and officials. His long-standing dedication to diplomatic pursuits provides a glimpse into why this choice was made.

Starting his journey in the Swedish foreign ministry’s China division back in 2001, Kvarnström’s career is a mosaic of varied assignments. He spent time in Beijing, furthered his career at the United Nations, and was involved in significant roles focused on Central Asia. As a testament to his diverse skill set and language proficiency, he is fluent in Chinese and served as Sweden’s representative in Singapore from 2018 to 2021.

A significant feather in his cap during the current year was when, under the aegis of the Swedish government’s rotating EU presidency, he played a pivotal role in hosting the Indo Pacific Forum. The forum was graced by senior ministers hailing from nations including India, Japan, Pakistan, and South Korea. An insider familiar with Kvarnström’s philosophy mentioned that he strongly identifies as a transatlanticist, adding an additional layer to his global perspective.

The role he is stepping into was formerly held by Wiegand, whose retirement marked the end of an era. Wiegand devoted over three decades of his life to EU’s diplomatic missions. His most recent seven-year stint was in the role of managing director for Asia and the Pacific within the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), the diplomatic branch of the union.

The Contenders

Kvarnström faced competition from two equally esteemed professionals. One was Paola Pampaloni, who has been the right-hand person to Wiegand during his tenure in the EEAS. The other was Baiba Braže, a well-respected Latvian diplomat. Braže recently culminated her three-year term as the deputy secretary general for public policy at NATO, further enriching her diplomatic portfolio.

EU-China Relations at a Pivotal Stage

The backdrop to this changeover is the dynamic and increasingly complex relations between the EU and China. With ongoing efforts to finalize a date for an EU-China summit by the close of the year, all signs suggest that November might be the chosen month.

The undercurrents of this relation are evident in the frequent visits to Beijing by prominent EU officials. For instance, digital magnate Vera Jourova is set for a “high-level digital dialogue” with Vice-Premier Zhang Guoqing, marking the first such initiative since 2020.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the trade commissioner, will be in Beijing later in the month. His agenda includes discussing a plethora of topics, right from China’s adherence to sanctions to initiating a probe into Beijing’s supposed subsidies for the burgeoning electric vehicle segment.

Completing this line-up will be top diplomat Josep Borrell, paving the way for a grand sit-down in Beijing. This will see the Presidents of the European Council and European Commission, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen respectively, conversing with China’s top leadership in President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

Key Agenda Points for the EU

From the EU’s standpoint, the main items on the discussion table are twofold: Ukraine and economic security. Concerning Ukraine, the focus is on China’s perceived support for Russia, a topic of considerable debate and concern for the union. The economic security issue revolves around the EU’s ambition to gradually reduce its dependence on China, thereby reshaping its economic landscape.

In sum, the appointment of Niclas Kvarnström in this crucial role showcases the EU’s commitment to revitalizing its diplomatic and strategic approach, especially in the Asia Pacific realm. With a challenging geopolitical stage and an ever-evolving global scenario, the EU’s decisions in the coming months will be keenly observed. Kvarnström’s vast experience and holistic understanding of the region will undoubtedly be instrumental in shaping the trajectory of EU-Asia Pacific ties.

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