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Qin Gang

Deputy foreign minister and possible ambassador to Washington

Xi Jinping trusts him. This alone gives Qin Gang access to the closest circle of the leading elite in the Communist Party. Now he is being traded as one of the hottest successor candidates for the post of outgoing Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai in Washington. At a time when the US and China are constantly butting heads alongside threats of sanctions, trench warfare over their countries’ international supremacy, and a growing estrangement with regards to each other’s foreign policies, Qin’s position is all the more significant. The choice of Qin Gang also underscores speculation that Qin is highly in Xi Jinping‘s favor and should therefore be entrusted with this particularly delicate task.

Qin Gang earned the trust of China’s first man by working hard on his career. When Xi was relatively new in office and his image needed to be put in the right light internationally, Qin was in charge of protocol at the Foreign Ministry. He was able to work to ensure that Xi was also perceived on the international stage as the one leading China into a new era.

It was Qin Gang, for example, who accompanied Xi on many of his foreign trips as chief of protocol and paid attention at the big banquets at home to how Xi’s appearances were staged not only for the state media but especially for the heads of state from abroad. That he has done his job well is also shown by his promotion to vice foreign minister in 2018. Behind Wang Yi, who has been foreign minister since 2013 and has also studied abroad and who is considered a hardliner, Qin has played second fiddle for almost three years. In doing so, he has now apparently gained enough experience to move up to the position of ambassador.

Qin Gang’s steep career

At the Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang has had a very stellar career: The 55-year-old has been working there for 33 years. Immediately after his education at Tianjin University, he embarked on a career as a civil servant. Prior to his role as Vice Foreign Minister, Qin was also in charge of the Europe Department, in addition to serving as Foreign Office spokesman. Qin previously spent many years in London working for the Chinese Embassy in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as secretary (1995-1999). He returned to the Chinese Embassy in England a second time as an adviser from 2002 to 2005. Again in 2010, but by then with the title of Minister. In the years between his three stays abroad in England, Qin repeatedly returned to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. There he first rose to the position of Director of the European Department (1999-2002) and then worked his way up to Director of the Information Service and Spokesman of the Foreign Office (2005-2010). As a result, he has not lost his way within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

Nevertheless, international observers initially reacted with surprise to the news of Qin’s possible posting to Washington. After all, he has little experience in dealing with the United States. However, Keith Zhai of the Wall Street Journal sees this as a “positive sign” because an ambassador with no previous US experience can be seen as a positive new beginning for relations. As Qin’s counterpart, Nicholas Burns is currently being traded as the new US ambassador to China. The career diplomat and Harvard professor only chided Europe in mid-April at a virtual event for making a “tactical mistake” in reaching an investment agreement with China. Burns calls for greater cohesion among Europe, the US, and Japan.

It is possible that Beijing chose Qin Gang for the post in Washington precisely because of his European experience. An ambassador to the American capital who knows what makes Europeans tick probably knows better than anyone how to drive wedges into transatlantic relations – for China’s benefit. Ning Wang

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