Chinese Ambassador Leaves Washington With Relations at Low Ebb 

Cui Tiankai, the 69-year-old career diplomat who has served as China’s ambassador to the United States since April 2013, is getting ready to go home.American analysts mostly give Cui high marks for how he represented his country — or at least its government — during his eight-year tenure. But they also question the degree to which he or any Chinese diplomat has been able to influence decision-making in Beijing.Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China, and Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, are among those who say Cui has been a highly effective diplomat.“Ambassador Cui Tiankai has done an outstanding job in my view, during a very difficult period,” Lord said in a phone interview from his home in New York.Skilled, respectedThe fact that Cui remained in his post for so long attests to his skill and the respect in which he is held, Lord said. “He’s been very strong in defending Chinese interests, of course, but he’s always done so with a sense of trying to encourage some sort of dialogue, even though we’ve got some sharp disagreements.”Glaser attended some events Cui hosted at the Chinese Embassy. When asked about the senior diplomat’s mannerisms at those functions, she recalled that “sometimes he was gracious, sometimes he used tougher language when that was appropriate — he’s a very good diplomat, and he adjusts his messaging based on the prevailing situation in the U.S.-China relationship.”FILE – China’s Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai walks past the closed-door morning session of U.S.-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska, March 19, 2021.When Cui took up his post, FILE – Attendees masked to curb the spread of the coronavirus sit near a screen showing China’s Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai at the Lanting Forum on improving China-U.S. relations, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Feb. 22, 2021.The Chinese ambassadors, meanwhile, “probably are going to have a more difficult time,” he said. “It’s a lot more difficult politically for the [Chinese] ambassador here to go back to Beijing and say, ‘Look, you’re making a mistake,’ or that the American point of view is not unreasonable.”David Stilwell, who served as the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs from June 2019 until January, said Cui’s dilemma has its roots in the political culture in Beijing.“I feel sorry for Ambassador Cui; he’s been between a rock and a hard place for the last eight years,” Stilwell said in a phone interview from Honolulu. “As the man on the ground in D.C., he was responsible for telling Beijing what to expect from the new administration.” Stilwell was referring to hardened stance towards the Chinese government adopted by the administration led by President Donald Trump.Criticism ‘not tolerated’However, “suggesting that General Secretary Xi [Jinping] needed to change course, to compromise, would be tantamount to criticism,” Stilwell continued. “In the cult of personality that surrounds Xi Jinping, criticism is not tolerated.”Stilwell said that he imagined “Cui saw the train wreck that was coming but couldn’t do anything to stop it, nor could he get out of the way.” By “train wreck,” Stilwell said he was referring to the perception in Beijing of the drastic downturn in bilateral relations.“From where I sat, it was long overdue course correction,” he said.

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