Beijing will be closely watching who will be the next White House national security adviser, with the resignation of Michael Flynn casting a shadow over bilateral ties, observers said on Tuesday.
Flynn, who resigned over his contacts with Russia, was the most senior official from US President Donald Trump’s team that Beijing had contact with before Trump spoke to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping last week for the first time after his inauguration, the analysts said.
During the phone call, Trump said Washington would honour the one-China policy, which recognises Taiwan as part of China.
The call came a week after Flynn spoke to State Councillor Yang Jiechi.
Zhu Feng, an US-China relations professor at Nanjing University, said Flynn was one of the most familiar faces in Trump’s team that Beijing had interacted with. “It is like a communication channel was cut off,” Zhu said. “That could have some impact on Sino-US relations because [Beijing] seemed to be just getting to know the new administration.”
Names on the shortlist to succeed Flynn include retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, chief of staff of the National Security Council who has been named by Trump to serve as acting national security adviser; Vice Admiral Robert Harward; and former CIA director David Petraeus, Bloomberg cited an unnamed White House official as saying.
Flynn’s deputy, Kathleen Troia McFarland, a former aide to former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, is also a front runner to take up the job.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment because the resignation was an internal US affair.
Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies, said more channels of communication would be established between the two sides because people for the more important diplomatic roles had been or were about to be confirmed.
A meeting could take place this week when G20 foreign ministers gather in Bonn, Germany. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Minister Wang Yi are both due to attend.
Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Flynn’s resignation would be a big blow to Trump. “But Flynn quit over his links with Russia rather than China, so relations between US and China will not be affected,” Tao said.
Lu Xiang, an international relations expert at CASS, said Flynn’s resignation was likely to have a bigger impact on US ties with Russia.