China cautiously optimistic about new US ambassador

Editor’s Note: Yuan Sha is an assistant researcher in the American Studies Department of the China Institute of International Studies. A former Columbia University Fulbright Fellow, she holds a PhD in International Politics from the China University of Foreign Affairs. Yuan has published several articles on Sino-US security relations in Chinese academic journals and is a regular contributor to many Chinese media. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The US embassy in China is expected to welcome a new boss, with US President Joe Biden announcing on Friday his intention to appoint Nicholas Burns as the next ambassador to China. The move instills a sense of confidence in China-U.S. Relations as it fills the void left by the resignation of former Ambassador Terry Branstad more than 10 months ago, even though it would be too early to predict a turnaround in relations. bilateral amid the current tensions.

An ideal choice

Burns is widely regarded as the perfect fit for the job. He is a foreign service veteran and has held senior positions in the Democratic and Republican administrations, which has won him approval from both sides, which should ease his Senate confirmation process.

He is also a respected scholar. In fact, he is now a professor of diplomacy and international relations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is an advocate of diplomacy who compared diplomats to “gardeners” in a recent article commemorating the late US Secretary of State George Schultz in Foreign Affairs magazine. The importance and complexity of Sino-US relations need a character who is well versed in diplomatic nuances.

Although Burns is not an expert on China, he has a wealth of experience working with the Chinese government “on issues as diverse as Afghanistan, United Nations sanctions against Iran, North Korea and the United Nations. US policy in the Indo-Pacific, “according to a White House statement. , and at the “Aspen Strategy Group, he organized a political dialogue with the Central Party School of the Chinese government. He has taught, written and spoken on current US-China relations ”.

The appointment is widely seen as signifying reciprocity by the US side, as it comes a month after the new Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang was assigned to Washington.

Burns’ close relationship with President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also indicates the importance the administration places on U.S.-China relations. Thus, the new ambassador is expected to serve as a bridge between the two countries as diplomatic channels dwindle due to the double shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising tensions in bilateral relations.

Stay cautious

Given China’s priority in the US national strategy, there are suspicions about how much leeway a US ambassador would actually have in Sino-US relations after Branstad’s experience.

As the Biden administration doubles up on a competitive and even confrontational policy towards China, it would be naïve to view the appointment of a new ambassador as an olive branch. In fact, Burns’ rich experience and deep connections across the globe could give him an edge in helping the Biden administration rally allies and partners against China.

Notably, Burns agrees with the US policy shift towards strategic competition with China. In his preface to the book “The Struggle for Power: US-China Relations in the 21st Century” published by the Aspen Strategy Group in 2020, he listed four main areas of Sino-US competition spanning economic, military, technological and other fronts. ideological. .

But Burns also recognizes the difficult question of how best to deal with China, and suggested a “hybrid approach: compete with China where we need to; cooperate where we can ”. He also called on the “two tigers (to) unite” at the worst time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is in keeping with the Biden administration’s professed approach of “competition, confrontation and cooperation” towards China. But this three-pronged policy is now widely seen as unbalanced, with the “cooperation” facet clearly absent. Thus, it is eagerly awaited to see how a new ambassador will promote cooperation and restore trust between the two countries.

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