Newly-appointed Chinese ambassador Xie Feng said China and Russia have to maintain “normal friendly, neighborly relations,” but asserted that when it comes to the Ukrainian war, China stands for “safeguarding” sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In an interview with Semafor’s Steve Clemons at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, Xie also dismissed questions about the disappearance of China’s foreign minister Qin Gang.
You can watch the full exchange below and read on for highlights from the interview.
On Russia and Putin
Xie said that he has never personally met Russian President Vladimir Putin, but referenced former U.S. President George W. Bush calling Putin “trustworthy.” (Bush would later say he regretted those comments).
Xie recalled Bush saying that “he looked into the eyes of Mr. Putin... that he saw his soul... and that he is reliable,” Xie said. “China and Russia...we have more than 4,000 kilometers of border. So it’s only natural for us to maintain good neighborly relations.”
On US-China competition
During the conversation, Xie said one of Beijing’s biggest grievances is the U.S. hypocrisy of promoting competition between the two superpowers while “keeping China out” from doing business, like banning Huawei operations in the U.S. or restricting exports of chip components to China.
On Qin Gang
The ambassador offered a cryptic answer when asked whether China’s foreign minister Qin Gang, who has vanished from public view for more than 20 days, would meet with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during his surprise visit to China. “Let’s wait and see,” Xie said.
When pressed about Qin Gang’s absence, he said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already briefed the media on the issue. “Thank you for your care,” Xie told Clemons.
On anti-China sentiment
Xie said he was surprised at just how much “political correctness” has encompassed American society, raising concerns that any commentary in favor of improving ties between the U.S. and China is now taboo in American discourse.
“There are some hiding in the darkness, afraid of being crushed,” he said, referring to those who support ending the spat between the two countries. “One of my jobs here is to seek them out.”
Xie reaffirmed that China wishes to improve U.S.-Sino relations amid the ongoing diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing, saying that small improvements, such as increasing more passenger flights and diplomatic channels between the two countries, could start right away. But, he warned, the U.S. also needed to pull back on non-negotiable issues, namely Taiwan.
“It’s like a gray rhino charging at us,” Xie said of the U.S.‘s Taiwan policy, asserting that he was concerned about just how much pro-separatist rhetoric from some Taiwanese leaders was influencing American leaders.
On China as a mediator
Xie said that his country aims to become a more active mediator in diplomatic crises now that the country has become a global economic powerhouse.
He said that China is considering helping in the Israel-Palestine conflict after securing a Saudi-Iranian deal that restored diplomatic relations in March.
“The purpose of China facilitating for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations [between Iran and Saudi Arabia] is simply to encourage more countries in the region to embrace peace, to shake hands,” Xie said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Ambassador Xie Feng referring to a “swimsuit” competition. The correct word was “swimming.”