China’s new ambassador to US admits ‘challenges’ in relations

Career diplomat Xie Feng is known for his plain-speaking style but has also spent many years working on US policy.

Xie Feng, China's new ambassador to the US, waves as he gets into a waiting car after arriving in the US. His wife is with him and she is waving too. They are both smiling.
Xie Feng, China's new US ambassador, arrived at JFK airport in New York City [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

Xie Feng, China’s new ambassador to the United States, has said while relations between the two countries face “serious difficulties and challenges”, he will try to enhance bilateral cooperation.

“I have come here to safeguard China’s interest. This is my sacred responsibility,” Xie told reporters after landing at New York City’s John F Kennedy International Airport.

“I’m also the envoy of Chinese people, so I’ve come here to enhance China-US exchanges and cooperation,” said Xie, who has earned a reputation for blunt rebukes of US actions as ties between the strategic rivals have deteriorated over issues ranging from Taiwan to trade.

Xie, 59, a career diplomat, was most recently the vice foreign minister with responsibility for overseeing policy towards the US.

A fluent English speaker who was previously posted twice to China’s embassy in Washington, DC, Xie in February accused the US of “obstinately” shooting down what it suspected was a Chinese spy balloon after its flight over the US spurred a diplomatic crisis.

Beijing said it was a civilian airship and lodged a formal complaint over the incident.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US welcomed Xie’s arrival.

“We look forward to working with the ambassador designate and his team. We remain committed, as we said on a number of occasions, to maintain channels of communication with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to responsibly manage competition,” Miller said.

Xie has taken a confrontational tone in past meetings with US officials, including when hosting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in 2021 in Tianjin, where he issued a long list of demands for the US to improve ties while accusing Washington of creating an “imaginary enemy” in China.

Nonetheless, Xie’s arrival at the embassy post, which has been vacant since his predecessor Qin Gang was promoted to foreign minister late last year, could help Beijing parry criticism that it has ignored calls for increased engagement from US President Joe Biden and his administration.

The gap without an ambassador was the longest in four decades, according to China’s state-run Global Times.

Qin told Washington’s envoy to Beijing this month that it was essential to stabilise relations.

Two weeks ago, it emerged US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi had met in Vienna for talks, with both sides describing the previously unannounced meeting as “candid, substantive and constructive.”

Biden – who expressed a desire to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the balloon incident – said on Sunday that he expected more US-China talks “very shortly”.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Xie was capable of facilitating better communication “if he chooses to do so”.

Chinese state media noted that he had recently met a number of senior US business executives.

“The decision to finally send Xie Feng appears to be part of this effort to prevent a spiralling deterioration of bilateral ties,” Glaser said.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters