China’s new ambassador assumes office amid resumption of high-level re-engagement between Beijing and Washington
Published: May 24, 2023 08:22 PM
China's new ambassador to the US Xie Feng arrives in New York. Photo: CCTV News

China's new ambassador to the US Xie Feng arrives in New York. Photo: CCTV News

China's new ambassador to the US, Xie Feng, a former Vice Foreign Minister who is widely known as a specialist in US-related affairs for his vast experiences in the field over the past decades, arrived in New York on Tuesday to assume office. His appointment comes as bilateral relations face "serious difficulties and challenges," the Chinese envoy said.  

Some Chinese experts believe that filling the Chinese ambassador vacancy signals more progress in the recent resumption of high-level re-engagements between Beijing and Washington, and that stabilizing the current complex and fragile bilateral relations will be Xie's priority.  

"As a representative of the Chinese people, I have come here to safeguard the interests of China, and I take this as my sacred responsibility. As an envoy of the Chinese people, I have come here to enhance China-US exchanges and cooperation, and I take this as my important mission," Xie told media.

The China-US relationship faces serious difficulties and challenges, Xie said, noting that he hoped that the US will move in the same direction as China, and act in the common interests of the two peoples and the world, properly handling important and sensitive issues, such as the Taiwan question in accordance with the principles in the three Sino-US joint communiqués. 

Xie's arrival comes as US President Joe Biden hinted there will soon be a "thaw" in the frosty bilateral relations following the latest G7 summit and Quad meeting in Japan - which descended into an anti-China workshop. Yet the two countries have seen a gradual resumption of high-level interactions, such as the recent exchanges between China's top diplomat Wang Yi and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Vienna, and the meeting between the US ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing. 

Meanwhile, China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Gina Raimondo and other US officials on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal said. And it will be "the first cabinet-level meeting in Washington" between the two countries during the Biden administration and "a first barometer" to determine whether the two countries are able to restore high-level exchanges. 

However, some Chinese experts hold a cautious attitude toward the bilateral relations that have been at a low point due to the US' misperceptions about China. Washington defines Beijing as a strategic competitor and pursues a China policy focused on all-round strategic containment. 

A resumption of high-level engagement does not mean a real thaw, some experts said, noting that it is unlikely there will be "any concrete progress" in bilateral ties if Washington does not change its Cold War and zero-sum mindset and containment-centered China policy. 

Steady, flexible manner

According to the open record, From 1993 to 2014, Xie was engaged in diplomatic work concerning the US, switching positions between the Department of North America and Oceanian Affairs of the ministry and the Chinese Embassy in the US. He was posted to the Chinese Embassy in the US in 2000 and for about three years, he focused on US Congressional affairs and then became the embassy's spokesperson.  

Xie is known as an expert on the US, considering his considerable experience in the past in handling China-US relations. From 2003 to 2008, he was the deputy head in charge of US affairs at the ministry's Department of North America and Oceanian Affairs. Two years later, he was posted to the Chinese Embassy in the US. 

Since he assumed his position as vice foreign minister in 2021, Xie had been involved in a lot of US-related work. He met with senior US officials while taking part in high-level exchanges between the two sides multiple times. In April 2022, Xie met with new US ambassador to China Burns and in December 2022, he held talks with visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Senior Director for China and Taiwan of the White House National Security Council Laura Rosenberger in North China's Hebei Province.

Some Western media pointed out that Xie was involved in the arrangements for the meeting between the top leaders of China and the US in November 2022 in Bali, Indonesia, and was also involved in coordinating with the release of Huawei's Meng Wanzhou. 

"The priority for Xie upon his arrival is to have extensive contacts and exchanges with all walks of life in the US, introduce China's basic position and major concerns on handling China-US relations, enhance mutual understanding and promote the improvement of bilateral relations," Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Considering his vast experiences in US-related work in the past three decades, some experts believe that Xie, with a steady and flexible working style, is very familiar with American politics, business and academia, which will help him to fully communicate and reduce the misjudgment between the two sides.  

Cautious view 

While some US media questioned whether Xie's arrival could make any improvement in the tense bilateral relations or would it be an impossible task to "thaw relations," some Chinese experts hold a cautious view as the resumption of high-level re-engagement could only be a superficial improvement unless Washington moves to tackle substantive issues such as trade and people-to-people exchanges. 

The Biden administration's willingness to "increase engagement with China" does not equate to "improving China-US relations" as it is more American logic and rhetoric simply to meet their own interests, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"We cannot expect Washington to have a truly equal, mutually beneficial China policy. This is a test and challenge for our new ambassador," Li said. 

If Washington really wants to see a "thaw" in US-China relations, it should stop provoking China on the Taiwan question, remove unilateral tariffs on Chinese products, lift sanctions on Chinese institutions, and reduce obstacles for people-to-people exchanges, some experts said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed the hope of rescheduling his visit to China and the Pentagon is seeking a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu in Singapore in June, according to media reports. 

Although the US government has shown an attitude of wishing to re-engage with China, it has not changed its strategic judgment of treating China as the most serious long-term challenge and its policy approach toward China is mainly one of repression and containment, Wu noted. "Under such circumstances, it is difficult to expect significant progress in China-US relations in the short term."