China’s new ambassador arrives in U.S. with words of optimism

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China’s new ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, on Wednesday wished the United States victory against COVID-19 and said great potential awaited bilateral relations, striking an optimistic tone as he arrived at his new post amid deeply strained ties.

Qin’s arrival comes days after high-level talks in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and senior Chinese diplomats ended with both sides signaling that the other must make concessions for ties to improve.

Qin, 55, a vice foreign minister whose recent past portfolios have included European affairs and protocol, is replacing China’s longest serving ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, 68, who last month announced his departure after eight years in Washington.

“I firmly believe that the door of China-U.S. relations, which is already open, cannot and should not be closed,” Qin told reporters at his residence in the U.S. capital after arriving from the airport.

“The China-U.S. relationship has come to a new critical juncture, facing not only many difficulties and challenges, but also great opportunities and potential,” Qin said.

He said relations kept moving forward “despite twists and turns,” and added that the U.S. economy was improving under President Joe Biden’s leadership.

“I wish the country an early victory against the pandemic,” he added.

Qin, who did two stints as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman between 2006 and 2014, has earned a reputation for often pointed public defenses of his country’s positions. read more

Relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorated sharply under former President Donald Trump, and Biden has maintained pressure on China, stepping up sanctions on Chinese officials and vowing that the country won’t replace the United States as the world’s global leader on his watch.

China’s Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of cooperation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

The post of the U.S. ambassador to China has been vacant since October, when Republican Terry Branstad stepped down to help with Trump’s reelection campaign.

With many U.S. ambassador posts to allied countries still unfilled, Biden has yet to nominate a replacement for China, though former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns is considered a favorite candidate in foreign policy circles.

China names ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat as new ambassador in Washington

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Relations between China and the United States have deteriorated rapidly in recent years

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Washington (AFP)

One of China’s most prominent “Wolf Warrior” diplomats was on Wednesday announced as his nation’s new ambassador to the United States.

The hawkish Qin Gang, a close confidante of President Xi Jinping, has arrived in Washington at a time of high tensions between China and the United States, and is expected to deliver a combative message.

He gained prominence during his two stints as foreign ministry spokesman, issuing barbed responses to foreign reporters and pioneering an aggressive style of defending China in the press and on social media dubbed “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy.

“As two big countries different in history, culture, social system and development stage, China and the United States are entering a new round of mutual exploration, understanding and adaptation, trying to find a way to get along with each other,” Qin told reporters on his arrival in the American capital.

The new envoy vowed to bring US-China ties “back on track,” according to a transcript released by the Chinese embassy.

The relationship has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, with the two powers clashing on a wide range of issues including trade, human rights, cybersecurity and the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And while President Joe Biden has lowered the tone since taking office, he has largely maintained his predecessor Donald Trump’s hawkish stance on China, describing it as the pre-eminent challenge to the United States.

Qin, who accompanied Xi on numerous overseas trips as the foreign ministry’s protocol chief, is among the diplomats who have vigorously defended China in the face of increasing criticism on the world stage.

The 55-year-old is considered more hawkish than his predecessor in Washington, Cui Tiankai. He is a fluent English speaker, having spent several years at the Chinese embassy in London.

Beijing-based independent analyst Hua Po described Qin as “one of the backbone members” of the Wolf Warrior movement.

Qin in February defended that style of diplomacy as a necessary response to “groundless slander” and “crazy attacks against China”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokespeople and officials abroad have adopted a strident and indignant tone to loudly defend the Communist-led country and even promote conspiracy theories or openly insult foreign counterparts.

But President Xi recently urged top political leaders to help cultivate a “reliable, admirable and respectable” international image to improve China’s soft power.

© 2021 AFP

Qin Gang, China’s new ambassador to US, strikes conciliatory note

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China’s new envoy to the US, Qin Gang, struck a conciliatory tone in his debut press conference upon arrival in Washington DC on Wednesday.

“I believe that the door of China-US relations, which is already open, cannot be closed,” Qin said, adding he would “endeavour to bring [bilateral] relations back on track, turning the way for the two countries to get along with each other … from a possibility into a reality.

“China and the United States are entering a new round of mutual exploration, understanding and adaptation, trying to find a way to get along with each other in the new era,” Qin said, signalling Beijing’s thinking on the current state of the relationship, and invoking memories of the former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger’s trailblazing cold war-era visit to Beijing.

Qin is one of Xi Jinping’s most trusted senior diplomats. In recent years, the 55-year-old has been seen accompanying the Chinese president on his overseas trips and meetings with foreign leaders.

A former news assistant at United Press International’s bureau in Beijing, Qin became a diplomat in 1992 and has served in various capacities at the Chinese embassy in London three times throughout his career.

Qin’s appointment to Washington comes at a time when the US foreign policy establishment is in the midst of a fundamental rethink of its ties with Beijing. The bilateral relationship is at its lowest ebb since its establishment in 1979.

Like his predecessor Donald Trump, Joe Biden has pledged to deal with China “from a position of strength” in what he calls “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century. On Monday, the Chinese vice-foreign minister Xie Feng accused the US of treating the country as an “imaginary enemy” in a message to the visiting US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman.

Since Qin’s appointment, observers of Chinese diplomacy have been debating whether he will bring Beijing’s controversial “wolf warrior” style to its most consequential diplomatic posting. His predecessor, Cui Tiankai, an old-school Chinese diplomat, has largely distanced himself from rancorous rhetoric against his host country.

After serving as Chinese Ambassador to the US for over 8 years, I will be leaving my post and returning to China this week. It’s an honor of a lifetime to represent my country in the US. I want to thank everyone who has supported my performance of duties over the years. — Cui Tiankai (@AmbCuiTiankai) June 22, 2021

Yet, as a former foreign ministry spokesperson, Qin is known for his uncompromising handling of foreign media and defending China’s image.

In 2009, he chided a BBC journalist when answering a question about China’s “Green Dam” internet filtering system. “Do you know what this software is about?” he asked the reporter. “Do you have kids?” he continued. The exchange won him praise in a Chinese-language article in 2010.

In explaining his understanding of Chinese diplomacy, Qin said in 2013 that China’s diplomacy cannot simply be evaluated in terms of “soft” and “hard”. “The fundamental starting point for our diplomatic work is how to better safeguard national interests as well as world peace and development,” he said.

“Diplomacy is complex and systematic work. It can be hard with some softness, or soft with some hardness. It can also be both hard and soft. As time and situation change, the two may transform into each other.”

Qin Gang, then vice-minister for foreign affairs, greets Angela Merkel on arrival in China in 2018. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Before his ambassadorship to the US, Qin served as China’s vice-minister of foreign affairs from 2018, and before that the ministry protocol department’s director general from 2014.

In 2015, he accompanied Xi on his visit to the US. Qin struck an impression as one who is “willing to ruffle feathers without hesitation when he felt it was necessary”, according to Ryan Hass, former China director at the US national security council under Obama, during Xi’s visit.

“Qin Gang was very attentive to how his leader would be portrayed and the image that his leader’s public appearances would send,” Hass told the New York Times. “This was particularly the case around President Xi’s state visit to the White House.”