Less than two weeks ago, Merkel’s former foreign policy advisor Jan Hecker took up his ambassadorial post in Beijing. The chancellor’s confidant was supposed to ensure continuity in the difficult relationship with China. Now he is dead.
Shortly after taking up his post in Beijing, German Ambassador to China Jan Hecker has died unexpectedly. This was announced by the German Foreign Office. The 54-year-old had served as a foreign policy adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before taking on the important diplomatic job in the Chinese capital. The circumstances of his death are still unclear.
“It is with deep sadness and dismay that we have learned of the sudden death of the German ambassador to China, Prof. Dr. Jan Hecker,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. “Our thoughts at this moment are with his family and the people who were close to him.” A native of Kiel, Germany, Hecker was married and leaves behind three children. He had only taken the post in August.
Merkel: “Shocks me deeply”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dismay at Hecker’s unexpected death. “I am deeply shocked by the death of Jan Hecker,” she said in a statement. “I mourn the loss of a highly esteemed advisor of many years, of deep humanity and outstanding expertise. I think of our cooperation with gratitude and am glad to have been so closely associated with him over the years,” Merkel said. She added: “My deepest sympathy goes to his wife, children and other relatives in their immeasurable grief.”
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who had also worked closely with Hecker as a former chancellery chief, called Hecker’s death a tragedy on Twitter and a great loss for all who knew him. “His sense of duty, human and professional competence and deep education were outstanding.”
Hecker accompanied Merkel on her travels
After arriving in Beijing, the top diplomat and his family had first undergone China’s customary quarantine due to the Corona pandemic. Hecker then handed over his credentials in Beijing at the end of August and took up regular duties.
“What sad and shocking news,” a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official reacted to the death of the new ambassador. A leading German company representative who had just met with him said, “Tragic. He was such a smart and reserved man. A good listener.”
Prior to his posting to China, Hecker had been head of the foreign, security and development policy department in the German Chancellery since 2017, making him a close confidant of the chancellor. He accompanied Merkel on her trips.
Political rise thanks to refugee policy
From 2011 to 2015, the law and political science graduate served as a judge at the Federal Administrative Court after working at the Federal Ministry of the Interior from 1999 to 2011. In 2015, Hecker became head of the then newly created Refugee Policy Coordination Staff, and he played a key role in the refugee crisis in putting into practice the “We can do it” promise issued by the chancellor. Hecker thus moved up to the center of government policy at Merkel’s side.
He was the chancellor’s first foreign policy adviser who had not gone through the classic diplomatic career – and was considered an outstanding foreign policy rising star. After the Bundestag elections and the end of Merkel’s chancellorship, Hecker was expected by observers to provide continuity in the difficult relationship with the emerging superpower China. Representatives of the Chinese Foreign Ministry had expressly welcomed his appointment, pointing to his closeness to the chancellor, who has taken a more restrained course in Europe’s increasing tensions with China.
German diplomats in Beijing would not comment on the circumstances of the death, referring only to the Foreign Ministry. Hecker’s previous deputy, envoy Frank Rückert, is now assuming ambassadorial duties on an interim basis.