Former Chinese top diplomat Qian Qichen dies at age 90

FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2009, file photo, then Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, second from left, shakes hands with then U.S. President Jimmy Carter, right, upon arrival at a seminar in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and United States head at a hotel in Beijing. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Qian, a former vice premier and top diplomat, who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, has died of an unspecified illness on Tuesday nightin Beijing at the age of 90. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2003, file photo, then Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen speaks during a conference on China-U.S. relations at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Qian, a former vice premier and top diplomat, who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, has died of an unspecified illness on Tuesday nightin Beijing at the age of 90. (AP Photo/Brett Coomer, File)

BEIJING — A former Chinese vice premier and top diplomat who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China has died in Beijing at the age of 90, state media said Wednesday.

Citing an official statement, the Xinhua News Agency said Qian Qichen died of an unspecified illness on Tuesday night.

The Shanghai-born veteran diplomat was chairman of a committee China appointed to prepare for Hong Kong's change of sovereignty in 1997.

Qian was also the country's top foreign affairs official in 2001 when relations with the United States took a steep downturn after a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot.

Qian's diplomatic career started in 1955 when he worked in the Chinese Embassy in Moscow, returning home in 1963.

Xinhua said Qian, who spoke English and Russian, was "an outstanding leader in diplomacy of the country."

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