WASHINGTON • China dispatched a veteran diplomat known for pushing back against Western criticism to serve as its next ambassador to the United States, an appointment that suggests Beijing is bracing itself for a period of prolonged tension with Washington.
Mr Qin Gang, 55, who most recently served as vice-foreign minister, arrived in the US on Wednesday to fill the post recently vacated by China's long-time ambassador Cui Tiankai, according to a statement posted by China's Embassy in Washington.
The first-time ambassador will instantly become Beijing's most important overseas envoy.
A close confidant of President Xi Jinping, Mr Qin is expected to deliver a combative message.
He gained prominence during two previous 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 that has been dubbed "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy.
Mr Qin will be responsible for shepherding relations between the world's two largest economies as they lock horns on issues ranging from trade to technology, human rights and the South China Sea.
The announcement, which had been anticipated for months, comes days after a contentious round of talks between senior US and Chinese diplomats.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated Beijing's demands during a visit to Tianjin by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, urging the US to stop criticising China's political system, drop all sanctions and tariffs, and stay out of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang affairs.
US President Joe Biden still has not installed an envoy in Beijing. Former ambassador to Nato Nicholas Burns has been seen as a favourite for the post.
China's relations with the West, and the US in particular, have grown far more fraught since Beijing last named an envoy to Washington eight years ago.
Some 76 per cent of Americans said they viewed the world's most populous nation unfavourably, up three percentage points from last year, according to a survey released earlier this month by the Pew Research Centre.
Nevertheless, Mr Xi, who faces increasing domestic calls to stand up to foreign pressure, has signalled a willingness to maintain an assertive stance on the world stage. In a speech marking the 100th anniversary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party this month, Mr Xi vowed that China "will never allow any foreign forces to bully, coerce and enslave us".
Mr Qin told reporters on his arrival in Washington: "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."
He tweeted from a new official account that he will begin a 14-day quarantine in residence and "get down to work soon".
He began his career in diplomacy in 1988 and is considered more hawkish than his predecessor in Washington, Mr Cui.
Mr Qin spent several years at the Chinese Embassy in London, and is a fluent English speaker.
Beijing-based independent analyst Hua Po described Mr Qin as "one of the backbone members" of the Wolf Warrior movement.
Mr Qin in February defended that style of diplomacy as a necessary response to "groundless slander" and "crazy attacks against China".
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE