Chinese diplomat Qin Gang has been praised for meeting the American public as the country’s ambassador to the United States from mid-2021 to early this year during a period of troubled relations between Washington and Beijing. His 2022 stops included a Washington Wizards NBA game, where he shot a basket last month, and Dallas’ Garland High School in May, where he wore a cowboy hat. Qin’s success helped earn him a promotion to his current post as China’s foreign minister.
Qin, who now lives in Beijing, spoke to Americans again via pre-recorded video on Saturday, using an NBA game between the Wizards and Orlando Magic to express good wishes on the eve of Chinese New Year.
“Happy Chinese New Year to the DC family!” said Qin. “I am happy to celebrate Chinese New Year with you again today,” said Qin. “I wish the Chinese and American people a prosperous Year of the Rabbit and a bright future! Good luck everyone and have fun playing!”
Qin’s message at a sporting event evokes the ping-pong diplomacy between the US and China in the early 1970s, before the two countries had formal diplomatic ties, and recalls how “sports exchanges and sports strengthened US-China ties have,” headquartered in New York National Committee on US-China Relations President Steve Orlins said via email today.
“The spirit of the young table tennis players was embodied in their adage and demonstration of ‘friendship first, competition second,'” said Orlins, whose nonprofit group organized a US visit by the Chinese table tennis team in 1972, a year after American peers made history had by traveling to the mainland.
“Minister Qin uses an NBA game in his New Year’s greeting to the American people to remind Americans that we share many things with China, including a love for the NBA,” Orlins noted.
The National Committee on US-China Relations, according to its website, “promotes understanding and cooperation between the United States and Greater China in the belief that solid and productive Sino-US relations serve vital American and world interests.”
Saturday’s NBA game — won by the Wizards 138-118 — “was filled with festive atmosphere and Chinese cultural elements,” according to a statement released on the embassy’s website. “Two American-Chinese artists performed the US national anthem with pipa, a traditional Chinese plucked string instrument.”
The Wizards, formerly known as the Washington Bullets, were the first NBA team to visit China shortly after US-China diplomatic relations were established in 1979. “The team has continued the tradition of friendship ever since, visiting China several times. It also played several warm-up games with Chinese basketball teams visiting the United States,” the embassy said.
Expected among Qin’s notable first visits to the US government as Secretary of State is US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will be in Beijing in February. That would follow a meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping in November ahead of the APEC summit in Bali. Qin succeeded Wang Yi as foreign minister at a time when US relations were strained over geopolitical issues – Taiwan in particular – and trade disputes.
Qin, whose previous positions include ministry spokesman in Beijing, has posted regularly on Twitter and sometimes treated the complex Sino-US relations softly, though he is also known as a “wolf warrior” for criticizing the West.
“I attempted my first throw at an NBA game @WashWizards.” Qin said in a Dec. 27 tweet. “Also renewed our special relationship as Washington Wizards were the first NBA team to visit China in 1979 when our two countries established diplomatic relations.”
In an interview with Forbes in Washington, DC in May, Qin expressed optimism about the overall relationship between the two nations despite trade tensions. “We are natural partners because our economies are highly complementary,” he told me. “We are very optimistic about the potential and opportunities between our two countries.”
Qin, who speaks fluent English, also expressed optimism about China’s potential for a longer-term recovery from Covid-related troubles.
“The basic characteristics of China’s economy — full potential, great resilience, strong vitality, large room for maneuver and numerous policy instruments — remain unchanged,” Qin said. “The various advantages of China’s development remain unchanged. We have full confidence in the future of the Chinese economy.”
The Chinese leadership will still have their hands full to fulfill their potential, however, as the country moves away from the “zero Covid” policy and faces ongoing challenges in US-China relations this year.
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