Le Yucheng (乐玉成) is one of the people named most often as a potential successor to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is expected to retire at next year’s National People’s Congress. Having studied Russian at university, Le gained professional experience on Sino-Russian relations early in his ensuing diplomatic career. Postings to China’s embassies in the Soviet Union and then Russia were followed by growing responsibility in the Eurasian Affairs department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since becoming Vice Foreign Minister in 2019, Le became one of the ministry’s main voices on China-Russia relations.
Over the last two years, Le has taken on increasingly high-profile appearances at home and abroad. He is also giving increasingly wide-ranging foreign-policy speeches, suggesting he is destined for a higher-ranking role. Although he does not veer into “wolf warrior” territory, Le is also often tapped to send strong messages on international issues – whether it is to criticize the US for supporting “Taiwan secessionists” and eroding China's sovereignty, or to blame NATO enlargement for the war in Ukraine, claiming that “NATO should have been consigned to history alongside the Warsaw Pact”.
Le is well connected. He was State Councilor Yang Jiechi’s deputy at the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group (now Commission) from 2016 to 2018, right before being promoted to Vice Foreign Minister. He was named ambassador to India right before Xi Jinping’s first visit in 2014, in a move that some saw as a sign of Xi’s support. Now 58, Le is part of China’s new generation of top diplomats – and his Russia expertise could be a boon for Beijing given growing competition with the West.
During a meeting with his Russian counterpart Igor Morgulov in December 2021, he anticipated the direction in which Sino-Russian relations were moving. He announced the two countries’ “friendship has no end lines, cooperation has no forbidden areas, and mutual trust has no upper limits”. This line was echoed by the February 4 Sino-Russian Joint statement by Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Le’s growing public profile confirms his status as a rising star within China’s foreign affairs establishment.