Who is Qin Gang? China's New Ambassador to the U.S. Has Formidable Reputation

The Chinese Embassy in Washington has a new leader whose first-ever ambassadorship starts during a low point in U.S.-China relations and amid increased scrutiny on Beijing, but Qin Gang's record suggests he is nothing if not a staunch defender of his government's policies—particularly in highly sensitive areas that still remain as contentious as ever today.

A career diplomat of over three decades, Qin joined China's Foreign Ministry in 1988 and latterly served as its minister for Europe, publicity and protocol, arranging foreign trips for President Xi Jinping and receiving foreign dignitaries in Beijing.

His most notable public-facing roles were two stints as Foreign Ministry spokesperson between 2005 and 2014. There he earned a reputation for staring down journalists and pushing back against any perceived criticism of Chinese government policy.

In 2010, before he left the country for a one-year posting at the Chinese Embassy in London, Qin recounted to a local newspaper how he "counterattacked" reporters at his press conferences, appearing to set the tone for successors who subsequently filled his role as spokesperson.

The 55-year-old former Vice Foreign Minister arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to fill the vacancy left by the long-serving former Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai. He now occupies what is arguably China's most important foreign posting, at a time when U.S.-China ties have been described as being in their worst state since bilateral relations were formalized in 1979.

"I believe that the door of China-U.S. relations, which is already open, cannot be closed. This is the trend of the world, the call of the times, and the will of the people," Qin told a select group of Chinese and American journalists upon his arrival, according to a readout on the embassy's website.

"The China-U.S. relationship has once again come to a new critical juncture, facing not only many difficulties and challenges but also great opportunities and potentials," he added, striking an upbeat tone and promising to "build bridges."

Back in China, meanwhile, Qin's appointment has been portrayed by some corners of the media as a sign that Beijing was ready to meet the Biden administration's tougher line with a similarly resolute diplomatic outlook.

Strained Relationship With the U.S.

Despite being a veteran diplomat, Qin's record might not suggest any obvious expertise on U.S. affairs. It's unclear whether he can repair China's strained relationship with Washington amid intense competition over technology and influence, and while continuing to clash over fundamental values like human rights.

What he certainly can be counted on, it would seem, is to demand respect for China while offering a comprehensive defense of Beijing's domestic and foreign policies—this time from the front line.

The phrase "Wolf Warrior" diplomat—describing an official who is not afraid to respond with harsh or even controversial rhetoric—had yet to emerge when Qin was still Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Earlier this year, however, he offered a defense of his government's turn to a more hawkish posture, telling the press in February that Chinese diplomats had to stand up to and reject "frenzied attacks" against the country. Those who sought to smear China, he said, were the real "evil wolves."

Some of his more colorful remarks as spokesperson came during rebuttals about China's policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, two highly charged subjects that still remain in the spotlight, most recently following Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's two-day visit to Tianjin from Sunday to Monday.

In November 2009, after reports emerged that former President Barack Obama planned to meet the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Qin compared China's annexation of Tibet to Abraham Lincoln's emancipation of slaves in America—a point he felt Obama, as a "Black president," would "of course understand."

In July the following year, Qin told reporters to start basing their reports about Tibet and Xinjiang on "facts instead of illusions."

In March 2014, Qin dismissed international concerns over China's growing military spending and its lack of transparency. The People's Liberation Army wouldn't remain "boy scouts" forever, he said.

Qin, who tweeted Wednesday that he would observe 14-days of self-quarantine at his residence, replaced the previous ambassador after a one-month window. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has been without an ambassador for over nine months.

China Appoints New Ambassador to Washington
File photo of Chinese diplomat Qin Gang, who was announced as his country's new ambassador to the United States on July 28, 2021. CNS/AFP via Getty Images