BEIJING (Reuters) -China’s yet-to-be-announced new ambassador to the United States Qin Gang headed to Washington on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter, amid worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Qin left a day after rare 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 reiterating existing positions and no specific outcomes reached.
Relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorated sharply under former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration has maintained pressure on China in a stance that enjoys bipartisan support but threatens to deepen mistrust.
Qin, 55, is replacing Cui Tiankai, who at 68 has passed the retirement age for senior Chinese ambassadors, the sources familiar with the matter said. When Cui ended his eight years at Washington last month, he was China’s longest serving ambassador to the United States and is considered a seasoned and well-respected figure in Beijing and Washington.
Qin, who is one of China’s vice foreign minister and whose recent past portfolios have included European affairs and protocol, has no prior U.S.-related experience, according to his biography on the foreign ministry website.
“It will take some time for Qin build up his network of contacts in the political, security and diplomacy circles in the United States,” said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
Qin has done two stints as foreign ministry spokesman between 2006 and 2014, and stood out among his peers for being one of the earliest Chinese diplomats to make sharp comments in defence of China.
In 2008, he fired back at Californian rockers Guns N’ Roses, whose album title “Chinese Democracy” offended some Chinese, by saying “many people don’t like this kind of music” and that it is “too noisy and clamorous.”
“Qin is likely to appear tougher than Cui when engaging with the Americans,” Li said.
“But given how China-U.S. ties are now largely constrained by structural factors, such as domestic pressure and strategic competition, there is a limit to how much an ambassador can actually do to influence ties.”
Qin is expected to start work on getting U.S. buy in on a list of requests that China gave Sherman on Monday, which include removing sanctions on officials, visa restriction on students and curbs on Chinese media and diplomats in the United States.
The post of the U.S. ambassador to China has been vacant since Republican Terry Branstad stepped down to help with Trump’s reelection campaign.
U.S. President Joe Biden has plans to appoint former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns to China, the New York Times reported in May.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Christian Schmollinger)