Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Zhang Xiangchen has been appointed as a deputy director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a move that government officials and experts believe is a recognition of the East Asian country’s role in the WTO and its contribution to the multilateral trading system.

They also said WTO members, in the face of rising unilateralism and protectionism, should strengthen communication to achieve consensus step-by-step to advance necessary reform of the organisation, in order to safeguard the multilateral trading system and promote the building of an open world economy.

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appointed Zhang as one of four deputy directors-general on May 4. The three others are Angela Ellard of the US, Anabel Gonzalez of Costa Rica and Jean-Marie Paugam of France.

The four deputy directors-general will work with the director-general to advance the interests of the organisation, including preparations for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, which will be held at the end of this year in Geneva, according to Xinhua News Agency.

"It is a recognition of the positive and constructive role China has been playing in the WTO over the years," said a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce on May 4.

China will continue to strengthen its cooperative relationship with the WTO Secretariat and support the work of the director-general and the WTO Secretariat, contributing to the safeguarding of the multilateral trading system and improvement of global economic governance, the spokesperson said in an online statement.

As a major trading nation, China has long been a constructive member of the WTO, faithfully fulfilling its commitments and making great contributions, such as providing capital and technological aid to developing countries and helping to train officials of new WTO members, said Tu Xinquan, a professor of international trade and dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Huo Jianguo, vice-chairman of the Beijing-based China Society for World Trade Organisation Studies, said Zhang's appointment is not a surprise, considering that China is an active participant in, strong supporter of, and major contributor to the multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core.

"China firmly observes and upholds WTO rules, supports the multilateral trading system and has contributed its efforts to represent the interests of developing countries in pursuing a new rules-based, fair and open international trade order that is not dominated by a few developed countries," he said.

Both of the experts said the appointment of the four deputy directors-general from different regions also reflects the efforts of the WTO to balance the voices of its member countries, although their positions require them to put the interests of the WTO ahead of their home countries' interests.

They also believe the new leadership of the WTO will better coordinate communication of developing and developed countries from different regions.

"Strengthened communication and cooperation is necessary to achieve consensus, especially as the WTO's authority and efficacy are facing severe challenges from rising unilateralist and protectionist practices," Huo said.

"We hope the WTO will represent the interests of all member countries. It should better protect the interests of developing members on the basis of fair and just principles."

China has adopted higher-level opening-up practices and supports necessary reforms of the WTO to explore a new set of rules on international trade and investment, he said.

However, the reforms should safeguard the development interests of developing members, and all WTO members, especially developing nations, should be able to implement the new rules, he added.