Service to her country
Though some women may second-guess such a decision, Ambassador of China to Barbados, Wang Ke, readily accepted the diplomatic posting, leaving her family thousands of miles behind in China.
She told Easy magazine: “I am very honoured to be designated Ambassador to Barbados.”
“I think that China and Barbados are long-time friends and partners and Barbados is one of the few countries which established diplomatic relations with China as early as the 1970s. Since then our bilateral relations and cooperation have developed steadily.”
How difficult was it for this mother of a 22-year-old son and wife of a Chinese businessman to be separated from her family and come to a part of the world with such cultural differences from what she had been accustomed?
“I do not work in the same field as my husband,” she responded. “I had to make a decision that we have to be apart. I have my profession, he has his own. He will visit me and I can take vacation and go back home to have a family reunion.”
With over 20 years in China’s diplomatic service, Wang Ke is used to moving around. Since she graduated from the Foreign Affairs University in 1986 and joining China’s ministry of foreign affairs, her career has at times taken her away from her family. From being a staff member in the ministry of foreign affairs at the beginning, she has gone to Toronto, holding various positions of third secretary, vice consul, second secretary, consul, and consul general.
She has also been counsellor in the Chinese Embassy in South Africa, her second overseas posting before coming to Barbados for her first assignment as an ambassador.
She plans to follow through on the consensus for cooperation reached by China’s President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart during their meeting in Trinidad last June.
“I think we have to maintain the high level exchange of visits between the two countries at the ministerial level and we would also like to invite some provincial level officials from China to visit this country in order to have a political guideline of our bilateral relations” she said.
“Also, I think our two countries should strengthen our cooperation and coordination in the international arena to render mutual support to each other especially in the area of development and the area of combatting climate change so that we can maintain and safeguard the interest of our two countries as well as the developing countries.”
Wang Ke’s typical work day begins with reading the newspapers. “That is something I must do every day. Of course I watch the TV, the brief CBC news every morning at 7.” The hour she spends every morning intensely perusing the news helps to prepare her for the day ahead.
In addition she said, “I will meet people either here or outside the embassy; I will visit some projects, programmes.”
An important “must do” on her list is interaction with the Chinese community here, “because we have less than 200 people here and it is the Embassy’s responsibility to render relevant assistance, to see whether they are living or working well here.”
As part of this responsibility, she considered it an obligation to be there recently when the Chinese community launched a course in learning Chinese, for children of that community.
“It is the very first of its kind so I encouraged the kids to be committed to learning their mother tongue . . . . Chinese children either born here or brought here by their parents, some of them can speak a little bit but they cannot read, they cannot write (Chinese).”
Ensuring that Chinese children here keep in touch with their culture is instructive about Wang Ke’s own commitment to the traditions of her homeland.
“I come from a family that is very special” she said. She is from that period in China when the decades-long one-child per family policy was enforced. This has only recently changed, as she explained: “In China we have changed the policy and the young people can choose. If one of the couple, they are the single child of that family, they can choose to have the second child.” By easing the restrictions, if one of a couple is an only child, the couple is now allowed to have two children.
She pointed out how difficult it has been to establish that work/life balance as a career diplomat and a woman. Yet she manages, but how?
“I am trying, not very well, but you have to make sacrifices sometimes . . . as long as I have the opportunity, I have to contribute to my family not only my husband and child, but also my parents and my husband’s parents.”
In contrast to Barbados, where there is a growing tendency by the young to abandon their elderly relatives, younger Chinese regard it as an obligation to care for their seniors. As Ambassador Wang Ke pointed out, “that’s the Chinese tradition. We honour the family very much. We respect the old people”.
She also acknowledged another Chinese tradition, that of hard work, saying, “We have a hard-working people and the government is very committed. We have a strategic plan.”
Though setting herself such a rigorous schedule on her latest assignment, Wang Ke is also taking the time to learn about the country she will be making home for the next two or three years. Weekends find her driving around Barbados exploring, visiting the places tourists find attractive, but also taking the time to interact with Barbadians, as she put it “learning to be a true Bajan”.
She is also attempting to settle into the Barbadian pace of life, much slower than what she knows in China.
You may run into her jogging along the Richard Haynes Boardwalk with colleagues from the Embassy, often during those recreational periods when she chooses this form of relaxation over another – checking in via the internet to keep in touch with family and friends.
Asked to describe herself Wang Ke said “I am an easy-going person and also a very hard-working person. In terms of work I am very dedicated” and acknowledging the support of her staff she added, “The embassy work is not one person. It is teamwork.”
With her team she is focused on promoting people to people contact through “cultural and educational exchanges between our two people”.