The Chinese Embassy in Washington annually hosts a VIP reception as part of its Lunar New Year festivities. This year, Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Commerce Secretary, was among the dignitaries in the front row.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

Last month, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ross acknowledged that the U.S. may have picked a trade fight with China. It was after the Trump administration announced it was imposing tariffs on some Chinese exports, including solar panels, and was considering more.

Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, addressing guests at the Chinese Embassy’s Lunar New Year celebration, on February 13, 2018. (Credit: Roee Ruttenberg)

Addressing the crowd, Ambassador Cui Tiankai called for improved, mutual understanding between the two countries. Ambassador Cui laid out his vision for China-U.S. relations going forward. “We’ll continue to have differences between us” Cui said. “But our growing common interests are far more important. We may continue to have disagreements between us. But the need for cooperation will far outweigh any differences between us.”

Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Commerce Secretary, and other VIP guests listen to Ambassador Cui’s speech at the Chinese Embassy, on February 13, 2018. (Credit: Roee Ruttenberg)

Cui then pushed back against some in Washington who have grown vocally suspicious of China’s rise and its intentions. “It would be wishful thinking to believe that some political or cultural genetic engineering could be done to change China’s DNA,” Cui noted. “And it’s certainly paranoid to fear that a China that follows its own paths of development would be confrontational to the United States.”

In December, as part of his National Security Strategy, U.S. President Donald Trump called China a “revisionist power.” Whereas Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, called China a “strategic partner,” in his State of the Union address last month before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Trump dubbed China a “rival.”

Cheng Li, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, was among those attending the embassy event. “Ambassador Cui certainly – very strongly – criticized these kind of noises in arguing that we should emphasize cooperation rather than confrontation,” Li said. “We should emphasize diversity, but, at the same time, U.S.-China relations have no other choice except that we cooperate with each other.”

In September 2017, at a China National Day event at the embassy, the front row included Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Kushner serves as a senior adviser to the President. At the time, Kushner was helping drive Washington’s policy toward Beijing. Li said Cui’s September speech was notably more optimistic. “The trade war is getting some momentum,” Li said. “Some would even argue (it has) already started, although both sides still do not want to have all around trade war. Nevertheless, it’s quite worrisome.”

Cui’s speech at the embassy event offered a glimpse of the approach China will likely be taking in its position toward the U.S.. One can expect to hear echoes of Cui’s speech in the coming months, especially at key events, including the upcoming high-level U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.