A veteran China business hand and former fraternity brother of President Bush began his posting as U.S. ambassador here Monday by expressing a desire to stabilize tense relations with China.
“I pledge my best efforts to bring us closer together,” Clark T. Randt Jr. said in a statement after his arrival. He related Bush’s admiration for Chinese history and culture, and the president’s expectations for a visit to China in October.
Playing to the Chinese media and public, Randt labored through his prepared speech in Mandarin as cicadas droned and U.S. and Chinese reporters perspired in the soupy heat outside the ambassador’s residence.
He joked about his family’s cat and dog and reminisced about the privations of life during China’s Cultural Revolution, when he first visited Beijing in 1974.
“You were unlucky if you did not like cabbage,” he recalled.
Randt assumes his position at a time of volatile ties with China and follows two U.S. ambassadors who weathered major crises.
Former Tennessee Sen. James R. Sasser was besieged in the U.S. Embassy by rock-throwing Chinese protesters after the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Retired Adm. Joseph W. Prueher struggled through negotiations to free 24 U.S. crew members detained after the collision of an American spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet last April 1.
The new ambassador’s first priorities will be to press for the release of several naturalized or U.S.-based ethnic Chinese scholars detained in China on espionage charges and to prepare for the visit this weekend of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the highest-ranking Bush administration official yet to journey to Beijing.
Randt has already endorsed a policy that backs away from the Clinton administration’s perception of China as a “strategic partner” but also avoids confrontation and containment of China as an emerging power.
“We will engage and cooperate with China where we can, and compete with or oppose China where we must,” Randt told a Senate confirmation hearing. “China is not an enemy. And our challenge is to keep it that way.”
“I think it’s a good thing that there’s an ambassador in Beijing who knows the area well, and who will have the president’s ear,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the University of Michigan who was Asia director at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.
Randt’s business experience, Lieberthal added, prepares him to handle major bilateral issues likely to arise from China’s impending admission to the World Trade Organization.
Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Randt also has diplomatic experience. He served as commercial attache in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing from 1982 to 1984.
A member of the New York and Hong Kong bars, Randt, 55, learned Chinese at the Defense Language Institute and was stationed in Taiwan for 2 1/2 years during the Vietnam War.
But his main credentials are as a business expert in Hong Kong, where he worked for 15 years. As a lawyer for the Culver City law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and the New York firm Shearman & Sterling, Randt represented Chinese state-owned enterprises listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
He also represented AT&T;, Chrysler, Johnson & Johnson and other multinationals in establishing direct investment projects in China, according to Shearman & Sterling’s Web site.
Randt drew on his experiences in writing a book titled “Obtaining PRC Approvals: Foreign Investment Enterprises and Infrastructure Projects.”