Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai is tipped to become ambassador to Washington in a ministerial reshuffle accompanying wider leadership changes, with Zhang Yesui returning to Beijing.
Cui, 60, was previously head of the Asian affairs department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and ambassador to Japan between 2007 and 2009.
He was appointed to his present role in 2009 and has been mainly responsible for US affairs.
Cui was involved in negotiations on a wide range of Sino-US issues, including the handling of blind activist Chen Guangcheng , who escaped from house arrest in Shandong when top US diplomats were in Beijing for a high-level economic and strategic dialogue last year and obtained refuge in the American embassy. These experiences boost his credentials as a top candidate for the Washington post.
Cui once said China and the US had a "trust deficit", accused Washington of stirring up worries in the Asia-Pacific region, and called on Washington to respect Beijing's core interests.
Zhang was named vice-foreign minister in 2003 and ambassador to the US in 2009. He left Washington for Beijing last week.
He is expected to become the ministry's party secretary and executive vice-minister, posts now held by Zhang Zhijun , who has been tipped to become head of the Communist Party's international department.
During his farewell reception in Washington last week, Zhang Yesui said Sino-US ties had been stable recently, even though there were some ups and downs.
"The Sino-US relationship is the world's most important and vibrant bilateral link," he said. "I believe Sino-US ties will move in a positive direction."