Opening Remarks by Ambassador Cui Tiankai at the Annual Conference of the Institute for China-America Studies
Washington D.C., 3 December 2020
The year 2020 is about to end. This has been a very unusual year, probably a turning point in history. To overcome the pandemic, restore global economic growth and protect people’s livelihood are pressing priorities. At the same time, we have to recognize that the pandemic is actually reinforcing and accelerating some fundamental trends in the world that had emerged long before Covid-19. The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus some major challenges that the global community has to respond to together if we want to build a better future.
There are already discussions about how a post-pandemic world will look like and what kind of global governance we need for such a world. It is clear that the post-pandemic world would not be stable and global governance would not be effective without sound and stable relations between China and the US. Therefore it is time for reflection on this consequential relationship. This is not because of so-called failures of the past. The development of China-US relations since Dr. Henry Kissinger’s first visit almost 50 years ago has brought tremendous benefits to the two countries and the whole world. Our reflection is necessitated by the fast and complex changes in the world, which present us with great opportunities as well as high risks. We have to have a shared vision for the future and make the right choice. We owe it to the people of both countries and the global community to keep the relations on a constructive track towards agreed goals.
For China, the choice is clear. China and the US stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice for both countries. As President Xi Jinping stated in his message of congratulation to President-Elect Joseph Biden, the Chinese side stands ready to work with the US side “in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so that our two sides may focus on cooperation, manage differences, move forward China-US relations in a sound and steady manner and, together with other countries and the international community, advance the noble cause of world peace and development.”
We are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century. There are unprecedented needs for bilateral and global cooperation: public health, climate change, a more inclusive and equitable process of globalization, advancement of science and technology that will improve the life of more people in more places, etc. All these challenges call for enhanced international cooperation, including in particular China and the US working with each other, not decoupled from one another.
There are always differences between the two countries. Many of them are part of the diversity of the world. None of them justifies confrontation and war, cold or hot. With sufficient mutual respect and mutual understanding, we are capable of managing these differences so that they would not derail the entire relationship.
A few years ago, Professor Graham Allison made a timely warning against the Thucydides trap. And he also quoted Shakespeare that our destiny lies “not in our stars, but in ourselves”. Again, “nothing is written in stone”. Everything depends on the choices we make. The zero-sum game is anachronistic. Attempts to incite distrust and even hatred among different nations and civilizations are extremely irresponsible. Those who are obsessed with great power rivalries already have their feet in the trap. Instead, we should, based on a clear understanding of the new realities of today’s world, join hands to build a new type of international relations and a community of mankind for a shared future. The first and foremost thing we have to do to be on the right side of history is to reject the outdated mindset. The best way to avoid a trap is to open up a new path. This is the vision that we shall hold and a historic mission that we have to fulfill today. Are we up to it?