(TNS) BERLIN — Jan Hecker, a close confidant of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has died only days after assuming his role in Beijing as German ambassador to China.

“I mourn for a highly regarded long-time adviser, with a deep humanity and extraordinary competence,” Merkel said in an emailed statement Monday in Berlin. “Jan Hecker’s death deeply shocks me,” she added. “I think of our work together with great gratitude and am happy to have been so closely associated with him for years.”

The 54-year-old diplomat belonged to a small circle of Merkel’s close advisers, having gained her trust during the refugee crisis of 2015. Two years later, he became her top foreign policy adviser and was present at her meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall in June.