U.S. Ambassador to China position remains vacant for the longest time in history.
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
Qin Gang, China’s new ambassador to Washington, arrived in the United States at the end of July and officially began his career as an ambassador. In the context of tense Sino-U.S. relations, the role of the two countries’ ambassadors is becoming a key lever to normalize relations and protect national interests. However, since former Ambassador Terry Branstad left in October 2020, the position of U.S. Ambassador to China has remained vacant, the longest period since the establishment of foreign relations between the two countries. It was previously reported that the Biden administration would appoint former U.S. special envoy to NATO, Nicholas Burns, as ambassador to China, but this has not happened yet.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. in 1979, it is extremely rare for the position of ambassador to be vacated for so long. During this period, the role of temporary ambassador was assumed by Fu Ding. However, he left his post not long ago, and on July 12, David Meal took over the position in charge of the U.S. Embassy in China.
The complexity of candidate selection needs to correspond to the geopolitical strategy, which must be approved within the lines of both the White House and Congress. It is very likely that such a lengthy search for the right candidate is due to the fact that the policy between the two countries is yet to return to normality as Washington is doing all it can to ensure very difficult economic and geopolitical relations with Beijing in their attempt to halt China’s economic rise.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, there have been 12 U.S. ambassadors to China. The longest interval between the two appointments was almost seven months when on August 11, 2009, John Huntsman was appointed as Ambassador and replaced Clark Randt, who left on January 20, 2009.
Since then, the wait time between two terms as U.S. ambassador to China has been relatively short. However, the Biden administration faces severe delays in appointing officials to many positions. With Congress on vacation until the end of August, some ambassadorial candidates may not even be approved until 2022, the Global Times reported on August 10.
It is worth noting that the U.S. has so far not appointed ambassadors to other countries in the Asian region, such as Japan. Since the resignation of William Hagerty as ambassador to Japan in July 2019 (so he could run for the Senate), the post has remained vacant — setting the record for the longest time a U.S. ambassador to Japan has been vacant since World War II. The U.S. is trying in every possible way to pressure and make Japan its representative of its interests in the Pacific region.
Such steps may show that the White House is in no hurry to improve its relations with Beijing and gives insights into how it considers the Asian Giant its main strategic competitor.
Meanwhile, the new Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang, is doing everything to keep relations between the two countries in the best possible condition that they can currently be in, but he is also prepared for a political and ideological struggle. The current ambassador noted that “the gate for contacts is open and should not be closed.” However, if the policy of confronting and containing China continues, Sino-U.S. relations will never fully recover.
By taking an unusually long time to appoint an ambassador, whilst simultaneously continuing pressure campaigns against China by accusing it of human rights violations (Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet) and by attempting to contain the country in the South and East China Seas militarily, Washington is sending a strong signal that it has no interest in rapprochement with Beijing. With this in mind, it remains undetermined whether Japan will commit to Washington’s plans despite ascending into the QUAD formation with the U.S., Australia and India to curb China.
An ambassador is meant to be a country’s top diplomatic representative in a foreign state. The U.S. and China are undoubtedly the world’s leading economic powers, and with high-level diplomatic contacts effectively cut, it demonstrates Washington’s intentions to not peacefully resolve their issues with Beijing. Instead, Washington wants to maintain and continue the pressure campaign in hope that it will lead to an unlikely scenario of China capitulating and submitting to U.S. designs on the East Asia region.
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