New Chinese ambassador Qin Gang heads to Washington amid worsening China-US ties

Mr Qin Gang has stood out for being one of the earliest Chinese diplomats to make sharp comments in defence of China. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's yet-to-be-announced new ambassador to the United States, Mr Qin Gang, headed to Washington on Tuesday (July 27), according to people familiar with the matter, amid worsening relations between the world's two largest economies.

Mr Qin left a day after rare high-level talks in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin between US 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 US president Donald Trump, and the Biden administration has maintained pressure on China in a stance that enjoys bipartisan support but threatens to deepen mistrust.

Mr Qin, 55, is replacing Mr Cui Tiankai, who at 68 has passed the retirement age for senior Chinese ambassadors, the sources familiar with the matter said.

When Mr Cui ended his eight years at Washington last month, he was China's longest-serving ambassador to the US. He is also a seasoned and well-respected figure in both Beijing and Washington.

Mr Qin, who is China's vice-foreign minister and whose recent past portfolios have included European affairs and protocol, has no prior US-related experience, according to his biography on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

"It will take some time for Mr Qin to build up his network of contacts in the political, security and diplomacy circles in the United States," said Associate Professor Li Mingjiang, who specialises in international relations at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mr Qin has done two stints as Chinese 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 over the title of their album, Chinese Democracy, saying "many people don't like this kind of music" and it is "too noisy and clamorous". The album title had offended some Chinese.

"Mr Qin is likely to appear tougher than Mr Cui when engaging with the Americans," Prof Li said.

"But given how China-US 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."

Mr Qin is expected to start work on getting US buy-in on a list of requests that China gave Ms Sherman on Monday, which include removing sanctions on officials, visa restriction on students and curbs on Chinese media and diplomats in the US.

The post of the US ambassador to China has been vacant since Republican Terry Branstad stepped down to help with Mr Trump's re-election campaign.

US President Joe Biden has plans to appoint former ambassador to Nato Nicholas Burns to China, The New York Times reported in May.

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