Andrea Mitchell: The President and Secretary Pompeo talked about trying to engage China in a trilateral arms control agreement with Russia and the United States. It’s one of the reasons they say they withdrew from the INF Treaty that Russia was cheating, and it was more important to negotiate with China as well. Is there any sense that China would be interested in negotiating missile limits in an agreement with Russia and the United States?
Ambassador Cui: There are now very important negotiations between the US and Russia on some of the existing treaties between those countries. These treaties are extremely important for international strategic stability. We hope these treaties could continue. But I don’t know what is happening between the US and Russia. Maybe we should, I do hope we could have a reason to be optimistic, but I don’t know. We just pray that they will continue these treaties and keep the international strategic stability.
All over the world, the United States and Russia have the largest nuclear arsenal. This is known by everybody. This is international consensus. So they should take the lead in international nuclear disarmament. Hopefully they could show us leadership. China has a very small amount of nuclear weapons. It’s not at the same level. We are far behind the US and Russia. I still remember some of my colleagues dealing with disarmament issue, they asked a very good question. They want to know whether the US is ready to reduce its arsenal to the size of China’s, then we can start real negotiation. I hope we could be given a very convincing answer.
Andrea Mitchell: I want also ask you about the situation with the Uyghurs, because we hear devastating reports of what has happened with the people there. Tell the world why China feels threatened by this Muslim minority who have been imprisoned, tortured, slaughtered in large numbers, according to reliable human rights activists.
Ambassador Cui: The fact is the people in Xinjiang, all the ethnic groups, no matter what ethnic group they belong to, the people there were threatened by rising terrorist and extremist activities. In recent years, until quite recently, there were hundreds, even thousands of such terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, and hundreds of thousands of innocent people were hurt or even killed. So the people there were really threatened. We have to take measures to stop the spread and the threat of terrorist activities. Some of these groups are linked to ISIS. They were also trying to spread extremist ideas. So people’s safety and security were really threatened. Thanks to the measures that have been taken over the last few years, for the last three years and more, there has been no terrorist attack in Xinjiang. People are living in a much safer environment. People can really enjoy good life. This is happening to all the people there without any distinction between the ethnic groups.
Andrea Mitchell: According to the United Nations, more than two million people there, Ambassador, are held in detention camps.
Ambassador Cui: No, this is not United Nations figure. This figure is fabricated by somebody else, certainly not the United Nations. It’s very clear. We have invited, over the last years, we have invited UN officials, foreign diplomats, journalists (to Xinjiang), many of them from Muslim countries. And none of them supported such claims.
Andrea Mitchell: So you are saying there are not millions of people in detention camps.
Ambassador Cui: There is no such a thing. I was there in April last year. I had a personal visit there. I even visited one of these training centers. I met people, talked to the people there, the Uyghur people. I even met a young Uyghur couple who opened a restaurant in one of these training centers and were making good money.
Andrea Mitchell: Obviously, we’ll have to do more work on that. But I know that this is an almost universally held criticism of China. And it’s something that the world really needs to have more answers to.
Ambassador Cui: Well, Madam, with all due respect, I very often hear people in this country say this is something universal. But when they say universal, it’s mainly the United States and a couple of European countries. If you talk about anything universal, you have to consider China itself has 20% of the global population. If you count in countries like India, African and Latin American countries, the majority of the global population is very often not included in the so-called universality (that is often referred to in this country).
Andrea Mitchell: I want to get back to the relationship between President Trump and President Xi, because we saw them at Mar-a-Lago. We saw the President’s grandchildren singing in mandarin to him back in 2017. It’s a relationship that even through January and February of this year, the President was praising President Xi. How do we get to the point of him talking with racial epithets like “Kung flu” and also talking about the “China flu”. Why do you think he is blaming all of this on China?
Ambassador Cui: I don’t think there is something for me to explain. But I can tell you, I have been present at most of their meetings, Mar-a-Lago, Beijing, and Argentina, Buenos Aires, and Osaka last year. The meetings between the Presidents have provided important guidance to the overall relations. All these meetings were quite positive. I would certainly look forward to more interactions like this, an effective working relationship between the two governments, between the two leaders.
Andrea Mitchell: Is there any chance of an overture? Would there be any outreach from China to Washington, or should Washington reach out to China? Who will take the first step at the head of state level?
Ambassador Cui: This is a job we diplomats really have to do. My good friend, Ambassador Branstad in Beijing, I myself here in Washington, we will continue to do our best.
Andrea Mitchell: Nick Burns raised the issue of cooperation on global warming, on climate change, perhaps the greatest threat facing the world, certainly the greatest threat facing the world. Can that progress be made as long as the United States does not rejoin the Paris Accord?
Ambassador Cui: Whether the US will come back to the Paris Accord, this is a decision up to the US to make. But it’s quite clear, climate change is a very good example that we are living in a very different world. We are living in what we call a globalized world. Whether you like it or not, this is a reality. And we have to work together to respond to all these global challenges. No country can handle all these things by itself. We have to work together. But for China and the United States, since we are the two largest economies in the world, since we are permanent members of the UN Security Council, we do share special responsibility, not only to our own people, but also to the international community, that we should take the lead in promoting international cooperation to confront all these challenges. We’re certainly willing and ready to do all this.
Andrea Mitchell: Returning to Hong Kong for a moment, I just wanted to ask you, will you commit to holding an election in Hong Kong a year from now?
Ambassador Cui: This decision has to be made by the Hong Kong SAR government in accordance with the Basic Law and its own laws. It’s not up for me to say.
Andrea Mitchell: Are they really able to make that decision without Beijing’s approval?
Ambassador Cui: You see, Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy....
Andrea Mitchell: Well, it did, but it no longer does. According to most people…
Ambassador Cui: I think people have to be careful. High degree of autonomy is different from total independence. Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It’s part of China, it’s a special administrative region of China. So Hong Kong’s governance is based on, first of all, the Constitution of China, then also on the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Actually the Constitution of China and the Basic Law of Hong Kong provide the real guarantee for this “One Country Two Systems”.
Andrea Mitchell: But under “One Country Two Systems” which we understand, can the Hong Kong government go ahead and hold an election if it does not have independence, if Beijing does not want it to?
Ambassador Cui: No, the decision to delay was based on the assessment of the situation of the pandemic. This is the only reason. They cannot take the risk that more and more people would be affected and things could get out of control. The risk is just too high for them.
Andrea Mitchell: I know that there are a lot of people who want to ask questions as well of you. And I don’t want to take all of your time, Ambassador. You’ve been very, very generous with your time with us today.
Question: Thank you very much. And thank you, Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Ambassador. Unrelated to the discussion so far, I’d like to talk about the Arctic. And I’d like to ask you about China’s interest in the Arctic. Such that China has felt the need to declare itself, without an Arctic border, to declare itself a near Arctic power. So my question for you is what is the impetus for this great interest in the Arctic? Is it mineral acquisition? Is it transportation? Is it strategic with respect to the movement of potential military assets? Is it to keep up with your friends, the Russians, or even with us? So I put this to you as an open question. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Cui: I’m not expert on these issues. But China is the second largest economy in the world. We certainly have a lot of interests in the world. And we certainly want to make contribution to the preservation and utilization of any part of the Arctic. We want to make our contribution. We want to work with other countries. We have no military intentions for these places. We want to contribute to peaceful use and preservation of the environment there. And we are ready to talk with other countries. We know the United States and countries like Russia have very strong interest. Then we should all talk to each other and should work together to make sure nothing wrong is done to that part of the globe.
Question: Thank you very much. So my question is with regards to the policy of engagement. So the discussion in the United States holds essentially that engagement is dying and seems to me that in lieu of an explicit policy between the two countries, we will see the security issues dominating in security there, and then we see the downward spiral. So my question to you is, what do you see as an engagement 2.0 policy? What kind of steps we’re trying to be willing to take? What kind of steps do you think the US would need to take? I think if we look at the USTR, the trade agreement, we have phase one already completed, seems to me that phase two might be a big step in the right direction. What are your thoughts on that? Thank you.
Ambassador Cui: There’s a clear need for our two countries to have all-round engagement with each other, trade, finance, environment, security issues, international and regional conflicts, all these issues. Because we are the two largest economies in the world. We are permanent members of the UN Security Council. We do share interests and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, what we have to do more and better now is to build mutual confidence, to aim at a much better mutual understanding of each other’s intention and not allow any miscalculation or misperceptions to hijack the relations. Without such mutual understanding, our cooperation or engagement or coordination in any area would be very difficult, even for the trade agreement. If we really want to make progress in the implementation of the trade agreement, we have to enhance mutual understanding. And we have to enhance mutual respect, and try to have mutual accommodation. You see, (the relation) between two countries is very similar to relation between two persons. If you don’t respect each other, if you don’t understand each other, how can you work with each other? If we could have that basis, then the possibilities and the opportunities for our two countries to cooperate on so many issues are just there.
Question: Just follow up a little bit on the previous question. Is there going to be specifically a meeting on August 15, my colleagues are reporting at the Wall Street Journal, to re-evaluate the trade agreement? And if so, what is China’s position on that? Thank you very much.
Ambassador Cui: Thank you for your question. Yes. The original plan was for the two teams to meet six months from the starting of the implementation of the phase one trade agreement. The two teams are still talking to each other. But probably they will not be able to have a face-to-face meeting. They have to have something like what we’re having now, a meeting online. If they have reached a decision, it could be announced. If they do have such a meeting, it would be very positive.
Question: Hello, Ambassador. Thank you so much for a very kind and informative conversation. It’s conversations like this that will hopefully bring our countries back together to be the friends that we want to be for a very long time. I personally feel that China is just going to the thousands of years where China was an equal in the world community. What do you feel the symbolic things America and China could be doing to get our relationship back to where it was not too long ago? And let’s remember during the 2008 financial crisis, it was China that spent an enormous amount of money that helped the entire world financially. What do you feel that we should be doing to help right the ship of good relations with the two most powerful countries in the world? Thank you.
Ambassador Cui: Thank you very much. Thank you for your very encouraging words. And I do share your hope. I totally share your hope. You are right. If we look at the three major international crises since the beginning of the century, the 911 terrorist attack, the international financial crisis, and now the pandemic. It’s quite clear the global challenges we are faced with today are global in nature. And they require global cooperation, and especially cooperation between our two great countries. Otherwise, none of us will be able to really solve these issues, to overcome such difficulties, and really make our future much better. We are also working together on many of the international, regional issues, from the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula to the Iranian nuclear issue, from Afghanistan to the Middle East. All these issues also require multilateral collaboration and cooperation between our two countries.
A very good example would be what we just talked about – climate change. Another example will be the current pandemic. I don’t think any country can really handle this pandemic all by itself. Of course, we are faced with somehow different situations in various countries, because conditions vary in different countries. But still, I don’t think any country can say, I’m 100% safe from the pandemic while other countries are still struggling. We have to help each other. We have to make sure that the pandemic is contained and hopefully overcome, effective vaccine is developed, effective medicines are developed, and lives are saved. People can have a better assurance for their health. And this has to be done by the entire international community. And hopefully our two countries can really take the lead in this.
Andrea Mitchell: Mr. Ambassador, I know Nick Burns is going to ask you the final question. But I just want to say, I want to thank you for making yourself available. It’s a very important forum, the Aspen Security Forum.
Ambassador Cui: I think you have asked very good questions. Thank you very much.
Nicholas Burns: Andrea, thank you very much. Ambassador, thank you for the interview. Ambassador, I wanted to ask one final question if Andrea would permit. Maybe Andrea could be the umpire. The Ambassador and I met in Grand Rapids, Michigan 18 months ago. We spoke at a conference in front of 500 business people to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the US-China relationship by Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping. There was a little bit of celebratory mood then that the United States and China had done a lot, accomplished a lot together.
But Ambassador, the mood is shifted quite dramatically in the United States. There is widespread disappointment, I would say, even anger in the United States about China’s actions, anti-democratic actions to snuff out the democracy in Hong Kong. There is a sense that in the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army moving out against both the Philippines and Vietnam, acting illegally, and the extravagant legal claim that China has. Widespread opposition to what’s happened in the PLA assertive against India on the very long border in the Himalayas. And Andrea asked you a question about the Uyghurs. In this country, there’s a lot of evidence. And we believe that the Uyghur population, maybe up to as many as one million people, have been subjugated unfairly and treated unfairly. So I want to say to you, and we’ve known each other a very long time, the views are hardening here in the United States. And I would even say that most Democrats and most Republicans are united in the belief that China has been too aggressive in the Indo-Pacific, and that we may be at a fundamental turning point towards competition.
So my question to you is, is there a recognition in Beijing of the very tough-minded attitudes here, negative attitudes here with the United States towards China, towards the government in Beijing, by both of our political parties and nearly all of our leaders? And what can Beijing do to allay that concern? Because this is part of what diplomacy is. Right now, we are not seeing much conciliation at all from the Chinese government.
Ambassador Cui: Nick, when you were talking, I somehow thought you were still the spokesperson for the State Department. Andrea and I, we touched upon many of the issues you just mentioned. We have a limited time. I don’t want to repeat everything. But let me say this to you. The Chinese people are also very much shocked, they feel very disappointed about what is happening in this country towards China. There’s a rising anger among the Chinese public. People have to be aware of this. You are asking us what we can do to make the relations better. And people in China are asking what the United States can do to make the relations better. For many of the issues, sometimes I just don’t understand why misconceptions could continue and even spread.
I myself was involved in dealing with many of the issues in Asia. I know China and all our neighbors just want to have normal, stable, friendly and mutually beneficial relations. We do have disputes, like the border disputes with India, and some territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But on the whole, all the countries in our region want to develop mutually beneficial relations. I don’t think any one of them want to see any escalation of tension. This is also the reality. So, I have full confidence that between China and our neighbors, we will be able to solve any problem through friendly and peaceful negotiation without external interference, without external attempt to escalate the situation. For instance, China is surrounded on the land by 14 other countries. That means we have land borders with 14 countries. And out of the 14 countries, we have already solved the border issues and concluded treaties with 12 of them. India and Bhutan are the only two left. Maybe we are not able to solve the border issue in the short while. But I don’t think this issue should dominate relations between China and India. And I think our Indian friends would share my view.
So hopefully our American friends could have a really better understanding of the realities in our region, could really understand our concern, our perception, and what we need, what the people in the region really need, and could refrain from taking any action to take advantage of any disputes in the region or even escalate the situation.
The real problem for America, I want to be very honest and frank with all of you, the real question for America is: Is the United States ready to live with another country with a different history, different culture, different system, but with no intention to compete for global dominance with the United States? Are you ready to live with us in peace? This is the fundamental question. Hopefully, politicians, diplomats, journalists, scholars here could think about this really seriously.
Andrea Mitchell: Thank you again. I think Nick correctly points out that there is political agreement among Democrats and Republicans on few things in the US right now. But suspicion and antagonism towards China is one of them. So we, both of our countries have our work cut out for us to try to overcome those disagreements.
Ambassador Cui: That I agree. We will have both sides, both of us have to work harder to overcome the current difficulties, to try to solve, to dispel such suspicion, doubts, or even fear. We have to build a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship for the future.
Andrea Mitchell: Can all agree with that aspiration. Thank you so much.
Ambassador Cui: Thank you.