US' tough line on China behind China's choice of diplomatic veteran Qin Gang as new ambassador: expert
Washington left ambassador post vacant for 9 months, showing weaker ability to manage ties: analysts
Published: Jul 29, 2021 01:51 AM Updated: Jul 29, 2021 07:53 PM


China's new ambassador to the US Qin Gang has vowed to bring bilateral relations back on the right track, and make a China-US relationship of mutual respect, equal treatment, win-win cooperation and peaceful coexistence a reality. 

Qin arrived in the US a little over a month after former Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai left Washington in June, during which time Chinese and US ambassadors were absent from each other's capitals, and the position of US ambassador to China was left vacant for over 9 months, a rare occurrence since the two established diplomatic ties.

The new ambassador filled the post about one month after his predecessor Cui Tiankai left office, which analysts said demonstrated China's hope of pushing ties to a stable and healthy direction, while the world's two biggest economies are at loggerheads on a range of issues including trade frictions, human rights, coronavirus origins and the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the US has still failed to even nominate a new ambassador after the previous one left 9 months ago, showing that Washington's handling of bilateral relations lags behind that of Beijing, said observers. 

Qin delivered a speech to Chinese and American media upon arrival at his new post, during which he cited the example of Henry Kissinger, who made a secret visit to China and opened the door to the normalization of China-US relations 50 years ago. 

"It was during the Cold War. At that time, there was virtually no contact between the two countries. Dr. Kissinger had to travel covertly to China via a third country. Fifty years later, as the 11th Chinese Ambassador to the US, I can travel openly and fly directly to this country," said Qin.

"How the world has changed with the passage of time! I believe that the door of China-US relations, which is already open, cannot be closed. This is the trend of the world, the call of the times, and the will of the people."

"I look forward to working closely with them to safeguard the foundation of China-US relations, uphold the shared interests of our people, and endeavor to bring China-US relations back on track, turning the way for the two countries to get along with each other - mutual respect, equality, win-win cooperation and a peaceful coexistence - from a possibility into a reality," Qin said. 

The ambassador said on his newly opened Twitter account that he will start a 14-day self-quarantine in residence and get down to work soon.

'Most suitable person'

Qin takes the place of Cui Tiankai, who served in the role for eight years with an impressive and outstanding performance. Chinese experts said the appointment of an experienced but young diplomat for the demanding job shows that China attaches great importance to the position, as relations with the US are complicated.

Before his nomination, Qin, 55, had served as Chinese vice foreign minister since 2018, and has held a number of important roles since joining the Foreign Ministry in 1988. He previously served as Minister of the Chinese Embassy in the UK and Director-General of the Information Department and the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping on many overseas trips in the past few years. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow on US studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times that being at the frontline of shepherding the world's most important relationship, Chinese ambassador to the US is never an easy job, and in recent years, it has become more challenging and pressing. Cui, who carried out his duties excellently, served in the position for a very long time, and now it's time to send a new one, he said.

Cui, 69, leaves his position giving the impression to both Chinese people and the US side of someone who is patriotic, professional, hardworking and wise, as he could be friendly and charming when dealing with US people who were friendly and objective with China, but tough and uncompromising in protecting China's interests, bottom line and dignity when dealing with hostile and biased people and forces in the US.      

Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times that he believes both Qin and Cui's stance of safeguarding national interests is consistent. The Biden administration, which has continued its predecessor's tough stance on China, regarding China as its major strategic competitor, is the reason behind Qin's appointment. 

Qin is the most suitable person to replace Cui, as the new ambassador needs to be experienced and senior, and also have the ability to work under heavy pressure. He should also be able to defend China's interests on US soil, Lü said, adding, "Qin has excellent skills of expression, charm and a big heart to handle the most complicated and also the most important bilateral ties in the world." 

"More importantly, Qin has accompanied President Xi on many diplomatic occasions and foreign visits, so he is close to the decision-making level and can see China-US relations and China's foreign affairs from a higher and broader perspective," Lü told the Global Times.

Qin was widely known for his tough diplomatic style and witty comments back when he was Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson from 2005 to 2010. His directness represented a tough image of Chinese diplomacy, analysts said. 

In February, Qin responded to accusations that China was conducting "wolf warrior diplomacy" at a press conference on the China-CEEC Summit, saying that certain countries and individuals that smear China unscrupulously without any evidence are nothing less than "evil wolves."

Qin said that when facing attacks against China, Chinese diplomats must of course stand up and say no. "It is unreasonable to slander China while preventing the country from fighting back."

Before the appointment, Qin was in charge of overseeing China's foreign affairs with Europe. In March, the then vice foreign minister summoned the head of the EU Delegation to China to lodge a solemn representation over the EU's unilateral sanctions against China over Xinjiang-related affairs and informed him of China's countermeasures. In August 2020, Qin summoned the Czech Republic's Ambassador to China, Vladimir Tomsik, to lodge a stern representation and strong protest against the visit to Taiwan island by Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil.

He has also had previous experience dealing with diplomatic issues related to the US. In December 2019, Qin summoned William Klein, then minister counselor at the US embassy in Beijing, over the US House passing a bill on Xinjiang. 

Qin's new appointment was announced two days after the visit by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and her meeting with senior Chinese diplomats, including State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. 

However, experts noted that China had already scheduled a time for Qin's arrival in the US, before Sherman's visit. 

Road ahead

The Wall Street Journal reported in April that the US is expected to name veteran diplomat Nicholas Burns as US ambassador to China. The post has been vacant for over 9 months, after Terry Branstad left the position in September last year. 

Wu also said that China's attitude in dealing with China-US relations is reflected in its appointment of a new ambassador when the previous one left his post, which expresses hope that bilateral ties can remain stable. In comparison, Branstad left in a hurry and the US failed to appoint a new ambassador after 9 months, which shows that the US' ability in handling bilateral relations lags behind China's. 

Experts noted that as ties spiral to a low point, Qin's assuming position brings stability and predictability to the management of relations, and shows his primary missions of pushing forward cooperation and stabilizing bilateral relations while sticking to China's consistent policy towards the US. Analysts predicted those missions may include preparing for high-level meetings between the two sides in the near future. 

"At the early stage of his tenure, Qin needs to figure out how to establish an effective communication channel with the Biden administration, to bring discrepancies under control and enhance mutual trust," said Wu, predicting that the new ambassador may shoulder more responsibilities in crisis management as the bilateral relationship faces great uncertainty for both countries.

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, noted that on the other hand, Qin also has to expand contacts with representatives from all walks of life in the US, so as to solidify the public opinion foundation for cooperation.