China Energy | Diplomacy | East Asia
Cui Tiankai introduced his imminent departure this week. What does that imply for the China-U.S. relationship?
Ambassador Cui Tiankai speaks to the media earlier than China-U.S. conferences in Anchorage, Alaska, March 17, 2021.
Credit score: Twitter/ Cui Tiankai
China’s ambassador to america, Cui Tiankai, formally introduced his departure from the put up in a letter posted to the Chinese language Embassy web site on June 21. Cui’s departure had lengthy been rumored, however now it’s official: For the primary time since April 2013, China could have a brand new high consultant to america.
For the reason that normalization of relations in 1979, no different Chinese language ambassador to the U.S. has served even 5 years, with three to 4 years being a typical posting size. Cui’s eight-plus years have been a testomony to his functionality – but additionally to the turmoil that plagued China-U.S. relations across the time he would have been anticipated to maneuver on. Cui was 4 years into his posting in early 2017, proper as Beijing was scrambling to make sense of the brand new Trump administration in america.
As Josh Rogin’s guide “Chaos Underneath Heaven” chronicles, Cui was a important a part of Beijing’s efforts to get well from the shock of Trump’s election victory in November 2016. He labored to open a channel of communication with Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, after Trump’s win. That incapsulates Cui’s stint as ambassador: low profile, for probably the most half, however energetic behind the scenes. Whereas his efforts to have interaction the Trump administration had decidedly blended outcomes in the long run, Beijing valued Cui sufficient to maintain him in Washington for an unprecedented eight years, by way of the tip of the Trump administration.
With a brand new U.S. president put in, there are few indicators China-U.S. relations shall be taking a marked flip for the higher. However the usual trappings of diplomacy and channels of communication have been reopened, at the very least. And with the Biden administration itself set to swap in a brand new U.S. ambassador to China – extensively reported to be Nicholas Burns – Beijing took benefit of the prospect to institute its personal change.
A distinction is usually drawn between Cui and China’s extra forward-leaning “wolf warriors.” Cui has disparaged among the extra over-the-top feedback by his counterparts, together with when he famously denounced an try and seed suspicions that COVID-19 might need originated in a U.S. lab as “loopy.” However whereas Cui refused to have interaction within the kind of outright name-calling and threats indulged in by a few of his fellow ambassadors, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that he was by some means much less staunch in defending Chinese language pursuits. True to the celebration line, he by no means budged on China’s “core points” like Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the South China Sea. One former Canadian ambassador to China characterized Cui as “no wolf warrior, however much more formidable”: “Calm however unbending, relentless, a better, quieter wolf.”
Whereas the official announcement has not been made but, it’s been extensively reported that Qin Gang, a former Chinese language Overseas Ministry spokesperson and presently vice overseas minister, will exchange Cui. Qin has experience on Europe quite than america, however maybe extra importantly he’s seen as near President Xi Jinping, serving as Xi’s chief protocol officer from 2014 to 2018. As The Diplomat’s Eleanor Albert famous beforehand, in that capability “Qin has accompanied Xi on quite a few abroad visits and has overseen schedules and itineraries.”
Finally, for a high-profile posting like america, coverage is being formulated straight in Beijing on the high ranges. The change in ambassadors received’t have a direct influence on China’s strategy to america. However different Chinese language ambassadors have proven the function nonetheless has clout – largely by damaging China’s picture by way of inflammatory remarks. The most important query now could be whether or not Qin will observe in Cui’s footsteps and undertake a comparatively low-profile strategy, or whether or not he’ll search to turn into a family identify, each at residence and overseas, for slings and arrows aimed toward his host nation.