In ‘time of crisis’, China breaks with tradition with New York consul general Huang Ping – surprising even him

  • Huang says he was not expecting ‘they would send me back again’
  • In tense times, China needs all the US expertise it can muster, one analyst suggests
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 6:53am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 December, 2018, 6:39am

China’s new New York-based consul general is more surprised than anyone to be posted back in the US for a third time.

“I said ‘What? I haven’t finished my term here,’” consul general Huang Ping recounted at a couple of high-profile events in New York this week, referring to the orders he received from his superiors in the Chinese government while still in his posting as ambassador to Zimbabwe.

“I asked, why are you sending me to the United States again, especially at this time?” Huang told those attending the China Institute’s annual gala at the opulent Fifth Avenue hotel, The Pierre, on Wednesday evening, sparking laughter from the room full of attendees dressed in tuxedos or glittering designer gowns.

The China Institute is a member-based, non-profit organisation with a mandate to run programmes aimed at strengthening America’s understanding of the country.

“I was not expecting that they would send me back again because in my system, America is a place lots of people want to come to,” Huang added. “If you have served twice, it’s better you serve somewhere else.”

Huang, who had served as a visa officer in Washington from 1988 to 1990 and as consul general in Chicago from 2008 to 2010, repeated the anecdote the next evening at China’s New York Consulate on the western edge of midtown Manhattan.

Then he added a more characteristically diplomatic note that Beijing officials have cited recently to counter the more aggressive stance Washington has taken since Donald Trump entered the White House last year.

“China will further expand imports, open market access and foster a world-class business environment,” Huang told an audience of more than 200 in the consulate’s banquet space overlooking the Hudson River.

“In the coming 50 years, China’s imports of goods and services are expected to exceed US$40 trillion and US$10 trillion, respectively. That means a bigger cake for all of the countries, including the US.”

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China needs all the US expertise it can muster to help tamp down hostilities that have flared on multiple fronts, according to Robert Kapp, a former president of the US-China Business Council, a membership-based advocacy organisation.

Those hostilities include a trade war that Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will try to start to resolve in a meeting on Saturday during the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Other issues – including US suspicion of Chinese investments and military activities in the South China Sea – are threatening to undo the economic and cultural interdependence that has grown in the last 40 years of official diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington.

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“This is a time of crisis in US-China relations,” Kapp said, “and I think the Chinese government and leadership is probably hoping that putting people with lengthy experience in the US on the front lines of their official presence in America will help Beijing gain a more useful working understanding about what’s going on in the US.”

Huang’s presence would “also help convey to American audiences China’s official messages in a way that Americans will understand”, Kapp said.

Huang wasted no time getting started with his diplomatic work, telling the China Institute audience that “I was not sure I could do the job in a good way especially at this time, but I must admit that after the little time since I came into this building to spend time with you I’ve been overwhelmed by the good will and the great efforts and big contributions you have made to bring the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America together”.

Nicholas Platt, the long-time US diplomat who accompanied president Richard Nixon on the 1972 trip that restored relations with China and then set up the first US diplomatic outpost there since 1949, echoed Huang’s sentiment.

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Concerning the frictions between the two superpowers, Platt, an honoured guest at the consular event, asked in his address: “Is conflict inevitable? I believe no.

“We have spent decades together, both competing and cooperating, while dealing with serious crises along the way. China is too big to contain.

“The relationship is too complex to dismantle. We have no choice but to press ahead with the focus on practical solutions rather than ideological pronouncements.”