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China’s new man in Washington

China will send its U.N. envoy, Zhang Yesui, to Washington in March to serve as Beijing’s top ambassador in the United States, probably the most important overseas diplomatic posting for the Communist nation, according to U.N. diplomats. Zhang has developed a reputation in New York as an able and constructive, if cautious, envoy who has ...

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China will send its U.N. envoy, Zhang Yesui, to Washington in March to serve as Beijing’s top ambassador in the United States, probably the most important overseas diplomatic posting for the Communist nation, according to U.N. diplomats.

Zhang has developed a reputation in New York as an able and constructive, if cautious, envoy who has worked closely with American diplomats in the council. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has frequently praised his role in supporting a U.S. initiative to impose sanctions on North Korea in response to ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.

But Zhang has proven much tougher on Iran, where he has sought to delay consideration of U.S.-backed sanctions in the Security Council. In a diplomatic snub that did not go unnoticed in Washington, Zhang sent a low-level representative from his mission earlier this month to attend high-level diplomatic talks in New York over Iran’s nuclear program.

Council diplomats did not necessarily blame Zhang for the slight, saying that Beijing would have been more likely to have decided who would attend the Iran nuclear talks. But some expressed concern that his transition, at a critical stage in Iran negotiations, might further slow efforts to negotiate a sanctions resolution in the Security Council in the coming months.

U.N. officials have spoken favorably of Zhang, saying that he has continued a policy, started by his predecessor, Wang Guangya, of promoting China’s growing engagement with the United Nations. For instance, China has surpassed all other permanent Security Council members in the number of peacekeepers it supplies to U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Zhang has backed a continuing role for China in Haiti despite the loss of eight Chinese police officials killed when the 7.0 earthquake flattened the U.N. headquarters building in Port-au-Prince, where they were meeting with the mission’s top official.

But Zhang has also maintained China’s staunch opposition to Western initiatives to address human rights abuses, particularly in places like Burma and Sri Lanka, in the U.N. Security Council.

Zhang’s wife, Chen Naiqing, is a prominent Chinese diplomat in her own right, having previously overseen China’s Korea policy and served as ambassador to Norway. She holds no official position in New York.

AFP/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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