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China Accepts US Envoy’s Credentials More Than a Year After His Arrival

U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns presented his credentials to Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, more than one year after Burns arrived in Beijing. While the U.S. State Department downplayed the implication of the delay, some analysts said it reflects “the frozen nature” of current US-China diplomatic ties.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Burns said: “I presented my credentials to President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People. It is an honor to represent the United States as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.”

Burns arrived in China in March 2022. He was among 70 ambassadors whose credentials Xi received on Monday.

During the ceremony, Xi noted the Chinese government will “provide support and convenience for ambassadors to perform their duties,” adding China is ready to “expand mutually beneficial cooperation” with people of other countries on the basis of “equality.”

When asked about the delay, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told VOA: “That’s a question for the Chinese MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]. I will let them speak to their schedule on how they have their diplomats present credentials.”

“I don’t think so. … I’m not going to speculate,” Patel said when asked if it’s a retaliatory move by the Beijing government amid the strained U.S.-China relationship.

The presentation of credentials (formerly called Letter of Credence) is usually arranged upon arrival at a new post, according to the U.S. State Department Foreign Affairs Manual.

“There is no question Beijing was sending a message,” said Dennis Wilder, an assistant professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

Burns was received with 69 other diplomats, showing China did not consider the U.S. emissary particularly special, he added.

“Beijing will probably try to excuse the tardiness of the ceremony by claiming that zero COVID had made it difficult. But no other U.S. ambassador has ever been treated as just another member of the diplomatic corps,” according to Wilder, who served from 2009 to 2015 as senior editor of the U.S. president’s daily brief.

On July 12, 2017, Xi accepted the credentials of then-U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad two weeks after Branstad arrived in Beijing. The ceremony was personal as Xi and Branstad had first met in 1985 when Xi was a young agricultural official visiting Iowa. Branstad was Iowa governor at that time.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, ambassadors officially assume duties when their credentials are accepted.