Reorient and Steer Clear of Disruptions for a Smooth Sailing of China-U.S. Relations
Address by H.E. Wang Yi State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Special Event Hosted by Asia Society
Beijing, 18 December 2020
The Honorable Kevin Rudd,
Greetings to you all! I am delighted to have this virtual conversation with you, friends both old and new, as the year is coming to a close. The Asia Society has been a long-standing supporter of China-U.S. relations. As this relationship is going through a difficult time, Mr. Kevin Rudd and many friends have offered valuable insights on China-U.S. relations and spoken up as a voice of reason. We always value your input, and we look forward to further exchanges to build deeper understanding.
The outgoing 2020 has witnessed the sudden onslaught of COVID-19, a pandemic that has upended the world in almost all aspects. Countries have come to realize more than ever that global challenges require enhanced international coordination and cooperation, and that major countries in particular should lead by example. However, China-U.S. relations have spiraled down to the lowest level since the establishment of diplomatic ties 41 years ago. This is clearly not in the interests of the Chinese and American peoples, nor is it helpful when global efforts are needed to overcome the difficulties.
In retrospect, 2020 might have witnessed the greatest damage to the international order and international relations. Among many others, we see power politics jeopardizing international stability, as arbitrary interference in others’ internal affairs and sanctions have become the biggest destabilizing factor to regional and global security. We see protectionism jeopardizing international trade, as backlash against globalization is gathering momentum, with more barriers impeding trade and investment, and global industrial and supply chains on the cusp of breakdown. We see unilateralism jeopardizing international cooperation, as the “go it alone” approach and walking away from international commitment fracture and cripple the international system, and drag on international efforts against global challenges. And we see McCarthyism jeopardizing international exchanges, as those with radical and entrenched political biases seek to label and stigmatize open and lawful political parties and institutions of other countries, and use ideology to disrupt or even sever international engagement, aiming at starting a new Cold War and forming a new Iron Curtain.
These risks and challenges facing us are unprecedented. China and the United States are two largest economies, permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the largest developing and developed country respectively. What is expected of us is to form the right perception about one another, act in line with the trend of the times, and heed the aspirations of the international community. We need to step up to our responsibilities as major countries and at the same time, work together with other countries to overcome difficulties, meet challenges and pursue development.
I know you all follow China’s diplomacy closely, the style and future direction of which has been the subject of ongoing discussions. What I would underline is that China follows an independent foreign policy of peace, and seeks to engage other countries for friendship and cooperation on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. China is committed to bringing happiness to the Chinese people and contributing to progress of humanity, and seeks to play a constructive role for world peace and development. China has no intention to compete for hegemony. We never interfere in other’s internal affairs. We don’t export our system or model. Not in the least do we seek spheres of influence.
China’s diplomacy is for the development of the nation. As China remains a developing country, our ultimate goal is to meet the aspiration of the Chinese people for a better life. With relentless efforts, all rural residents living under the current poverty line and all designated counties have shed off poverty this year. This means extreme poverty is eliminated for the first time in China’s history of several thousand years. Proud of such an achievement, we are also sober-minded about the long journey ahead if we are to lock in the gains against poverty and bring prosperity to all the people. China’s diplomacy, which starts at home, should help promote the overall development of the country and the new development paradigm.
China’s diplomacy is for win-win outcome. It’s not part of the Chinese culture to seek our own development or put our interests above others. Nor is it our philosophy to play the zero-sum game and be the winner that takes all. We are committed to a win-win strategy of opening up to ensure all countries will come out as winners. We believe that diplomacy as such will be more sustainable and enjoy more support. We will further open up, only broader, deeper and with higher standards, to share opportunities and benefits for win-win and greater development.
China’s diplomacy is for equity. Having experienced great humiliation in history, China truly understands how important equity is. We believe that countries, irrespective of their size and strength, are all equal members of the international community. The big and strong must not bully the small and weak. We believe that countries enjoy equal rights to development. Developed countries are obligated to help developing countries increase the capacity for self-development. And developing countries should not be kept forever at the lower end of the industrial and value chains. We believe that global affairs should be handled by all countries through consultation, and that international rules should be made by all countries on an equal footing. There should be more democracy in international relations.
China stays committed to developing a relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability with the United States under the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. China has been working in good faith to that goal. Regrettably however, when we turn on TVs, read newspapers, and access new media, we would often see senior U.S. officials pointing fingers at China. There is no evidence to support their accusations. They are merely irresponsible presumption of guilt and emotional lashing out. The fundamental reason behind all this is that some U.S. politicians have strategic miscalculations about China.
First, they choose to ignore the vast common interests and room for cooperation between the two countries, and insist that China is a main threat. This is like “misaligning the first button of the clothes” – they get things wrong at the very beginning. The ensuing “whole-of-government strategy” that mobilizes all resources available to take on China is going in a wrong direction. Second, they seek to defame the Communist Party of China (CPC) out of ideological bias. The CPC, as the constitutionally recognized ruling party of China, has a close bond and a shared future with the Chinese people. An attack on the CPC is an attack on the 1.4 billion Chinese people. It is doomed to fail. Third, they hope that maximum pressure will make China give in. China was once bullied by western powers, but those days are long gone. Power politics will only get the Chinese people to be more resolved in their response. Fourth, they attempt to build an international coalition against China. But in the age of globalization, the interests of all countries are so intertwined that the overwhelming majority of them do not want to take sides, let alone being forced into confrontation with China. Facts have proved, and will continue to prove, that these attempts will lead nowhere and find no support because they deny the fruitful cooperation between China and the United States over the past 40-plus years of diplomatic engagement, write off decades of efforts by the good Chinese and Americans to grow this relationship, and dismiss the ardent hope of the international community for peaceful coexistence between China and the United States.
This difficult situation in China-U.S. relations is not something we want to see. The two sides should learn from the ups and downs since the establishment of diplomatic ties. In particular, it is important that the U.S. policy toward China return to objectivity and sensibility as early as possible.
I wish to stress that China’s policy toward the United States is always stable and consistent. We always believe that with deeply interwoven interests between the two countries, neither can do without the other, remodel the other, or replace the other. The bilateral relationship is no zero-sum game; the success of one does not have to entail the other’s failure. While China-U.S. cooperation can make great things happen for the two countries and the entire world, China-U.S. confrontation would definitely spell disaster for not only the two countries but also humanity as a whole.
The giant vessel of China-U.S. relationship carries not only the well-being of the 1.7 billion Chinese and Americans, but also the interests of the over seven billion people of the world. The time has come to decide the future course of this giant vessel. As President Xi Jinping wrote in his congratulatory message to President-elect Joe Biden, “It is hoped that the two sides will work together in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, focus on cooperation, manage differences, move forward China-U.S. 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.” This is how we see our relationship and what we expect of it.
We hope that the U.S. side will join us in rebuilding the strategic framework for the healthy and steady growth of China-U.S. relations on the basis of mutual respect, through dialogue and consultation, and by way of deepening our common interests and enhancing the support by the people.
In my video discussion last week with friends from the U.S.-China Business Council, I talked about the importance for China and the United States to restart dialogue, return bilateral relations to the right track, and rebuild mutual trust. We should expand cooperation and manage differences through dialogue. Among the four priorities laid out by President-elect Joe Biden, at least three – COVID-19 response, economic recovery and climate change – provide big space for cooperation between our two countries. The most pressing task at the moment is to jointly tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to do what we can to support the United States as needed. The two countries could also strengthen cooperation in diagnostic and therapeutic experience, PPE production, as well as vaccine research, manufacturing and distribution. We could also leverage our respective strengths to support COVID-19 response in third countries and contribute to a global community of health for all. Climate change is another important area of cooperation. China is steadfast in following the new development philosophy and building an ecological civilization. We are committed to achieving green, low-carbon and sustainable development. To this end, we will faithfully implement the Paris Agreement on climate change to fulfill our responsibility to future generations and our obligations to the international community. At the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December, President Xi Jinping announced China’s objectives and policy measures to scale up its nationally determined contributions. We noted that President-elect Joe Biden had pledged to bring the United States back to the Paris Agreement after taking office. We welcome more active actions from the U.S. side to this end. Our two countries can come together again to facilitate international cooperation on climate change. China is also ready to work with the United States to strengthen macroeconomic dialogue and coordination and contribute to global growth and financial stability as the world’s two largest economies.
That said, we never shy away from our differences. China’s stance is that the two sides should manage constructively the prominent and important issues based on a right perception of each other.
First, on ideological issues, we need to respect each other’s choice of system and development path. Over four decades ago, leaders of China and the United States made the handshake across the vast Pacific, because both countries recognized the importance of mutual respect and seeking common ground while putting aside differences. The goal of China-U.S. engagement is not to mold the other in one’s own image, still less to defeat the other side, but to seek and expand common interests. Both Chinese and American systems are chosen by their people and deeply rooted in their respective historical and cultural traditions. If the U.S. China policy were to remodel or even subvert China, it would not be achievable. The right approach is to respect each other’s political system and development path, maintain peaceful coexistence, and promote win-win cooperation.
Second, on issues concerning national sovereignty and territorial integrity, we need to commit to the international norm of non-interference in other’s internal affairs. Issues relating to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs and involve China’s core interests. None of them shall be subject to foreign interference, either under the international norms established by the UN Charter or under the three binding China-U.S. joint communiqués. There has been too much false information about Xinjiang and Tibet, and the executive branch and Congress have, on this basis, exercised long-arm jurisdiction on Chinese businesses and individuals. This seriously violates international law and defies international justice and conscience. As an independent sovereign state, China naturally has to respond. We shall not allow the law of the jungle to govern our world again. For our foreign friends who truly care about China and wish to know more about Xinjiang, Tibet and other parts of China, we are always ready to share with them the facts. We welcome you to visit the two autonomous regions at your convenience. There, you will see first-hand a Xinjiang and a Tibet that enjoy social progress, ethnic harmony, freedom of religious belief, and a vibrant economy.
Third, on trade issues, we need to replace confrontation and sanctions with dialogue and consultation. China-U.S. trade is mutually beneficial in nature. What drives trade is market demand, not imposed deals. There are no winners in trade wars, which only hurt both sides. What has happened proves that pressuring others with tariffs would only boomerang. The two sides need to remove man-made barriers and instill positive expectations for the sound development of China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation. The Chinese market will continue to grow and is expected to become the largest and most vibrant in the world. This means China can and need to buy more products with active demand in the Chinese market from the United States, and it is just a matter of time before the trade imbalance is eased. As for the U.S. concern of structural issues, China is firmly advancing supply-side structural reform according to its own pace. In the meantime, China is implementing in good faith the common understandings in the phase one trade agreement in this aspect. China has set a clear goal of building a new system of open economy of higher standards, and has moved further to reform systems and institutions. As time passes, legitimate concerns expressed by various parties will be properly resolved. We urge the U.S. side to stop overstretching the notion of national security, stop the arbitrary suppression of Chinese companies, and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese businesses and investors.
Fourth, on maritime issues, we need to strive to turn frictions into cooperation. There has been no problem with the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. There has never been a single instance where normal navigation or overflight was impeded. China will work with countries in the region to maintain the freedom of navigation and overflight under international law. China will speed up consultations with ASEAN countries toward a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will regulate behaviors on the sea and underline the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. The conclusion of the Code of Conduct will be compatible with universally recognized international laws, and will not affect the legitimate and lawful maritime rights and interests of countries outside this region. The Chinese government is always open to communication and dialogue on maritime issues with the U.S. side. Chinese and U.S. experts and scholars may also engage in in-depth discussions on the applicability of UNCLOS and other international laws and rules to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment. Our two countries share common interests in maintaining freedom of navigation, protecting the marine environment and harnessing marine resources. The two sides can explore possibilities of cooperation in those areas, engage in positive interactions on maritime issues, and add positive elements to China-U.S. relations.
Fifth, on people-to-people exchange, we need to remove restrictions as soon as possible. Friendship between our peoples provides the social foundation for China-U.S. relations. People with vision in both countries should jointly reject the attempts to disrupt people-to-people contact and create a cultural decoupling between the two countries, and work together to encourage and support people from all sectors to increase exchanges and mutual understanding. To view all Chinese students, experts and scholars in the United States as spy suspects actually says more about the mentality of the accusers and their lack of confidence. China has no intention to pick a fight with the United States either in diplomacy, media or other fields. It is important that people with vision in both countries jointly oppose stigmatizing people-to-people exchange and politicizing normal contact, and remove stumbling blocks to such contact and exchange.
As long as the two countries act with a sense of responsibility to history and humanity, bear in mind the fundamental interests of the two peoples and the whole world, and stay committed to principles of mutual respect, equality, seeking common ground while shelving differences, and win-win cooperation, the giant ship of China-U.S. relations will be able to stay on the right course, maintain a strong momentum, steer clear of hidden shoals and rocks, navigate through the countercurrents and stormy waves, and achieve the goal of mutual benefit and win-win for the world.