Beijing's Brand Ambassador

A Conversation With Cui Tiankai

Cui Tiankai

  • Country: China
  • Title: Ambassador to the United States
  • Education: East China Normal University, Johns Hopkins University

Cui Tiankai, 60, arrived in Washington, D.C., on April 2 to take up his new post as China’s ambassador to the United States. A fluent English speaker with a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, Cui spent five years as a farm hand during the Cultural Revolution before entering Shanghai Normal University. During his extensive diplomatic career, he has also served as China’s ambassador to Japan and vice minister of foreign affairs. He spoke with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman in China’s new I. M. Pei–designed embassy a few weeks after presenting his credentials to President Barack Obama.

Having just arrived in Washington, what’s your assessment of the state of U.S.-Chinese relations? For the last four years or so, relations have been moving forward steadily, although we sometimes wish they could move even faster. President Hu Jintao and President Obama met 12 times in the last four years. This is quite rare, even between the U.S. and its allies; it’s certainly rare for China’s relations with other countries.

Now that we have a new leadership in China, we have to spend time on the transition. President Xi Jinping and President Obama had a very good conversation on the phone [shortly after Xi took office] and reaffirmed that they will make every effort to have a cooperative partnership.

What are your priorities as ambassador? First, I have to make sure that the frequency of the high-level contacts continues and the mechanisms that we have set up between the two countries also continue and, where necessary, improve.

Many people seem worried that the relationship is drifting. President Xi has come up with what sounds like a new paradigm, what he calls “a new type of great-power relationship,” to address this. What does he mean? I think there is a clear mutual understanding between the two governments about the need to have a constructive and steady relationship -- to base

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