Focusing on Cooperation and Managing Differences: Bringing China-U.S. Relations Back to the Track of Sound and Steady Development
Remarks by H.E. Wang Yi State Councilor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China at the Virtual Dialogue with the Council on Foreign Relations
23 April 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ambassador Richard Haass is my old friend. And I happily accepted his invitation to exchange views with friends from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) via video link. First of all, let me take this opportunity to express warm congratulations on the Council’s 100th anniversary. Over the century, the CFR has witnessed the vicissitudes of the world and made important contributions to China-U.S. relations. Given the current difficulties in bilateral relations, we hope that the CFR will uphold an objective and just position and continue to play a constructive role in bringing China-U.S. relations back to the right track.
Friends, The Presidents of the two countries had an important phone conversation on the eve of the Chinese New Year, charting the course for the relationship. The Anchorage dialogue kicked off face-to-face interactions at the high level in the context of COVID-19. Our two countries recently issued a Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis. Yesterday, President Xi Jinping attended the Leaders Summit on Climate at the invitation of President Joe Biden, demonstrating the sense of responsibility of our two countries in joining hands to tackle global challenges. At the same time, we have noted that the new U.S. administration has described China as its “most serious competitor”. The United States still interferes in China’s internal affairs, including Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong-related matters. To be frank, the United States, in shaping its China policy, has not stepped out of the shadow of the previous administration, has not got over its misperception of China, and has not found the right way to engage with China. With this in mind, I’d like to share with you the following points from a strategic perspective.
First, we hope that the United States will view China’s development in an objective and rational way.
China is committed to a path of peaceful development, one that underlines peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation with countries around the world. China never seeks global hegemony. China will blaze a path of peaceful rise distinct from the trajectory of traditional powers. The wisdom from China’s millennia of history is that hegemony will lead to failure, and that a strong country should not seek hegemony. China pursues development and rejuvenation through its own hard work, instead of aggression or expansion. In everything we do, we do it for a better life for the Chinese people, rather than seeking to replace or unseat any other country.
Some in the United States claim that China does not respect the United States any more. As a matter of fact, it is China that values mutual respect and equality the most. When we stress “looking at each other on an equal level”, we mean nothing but equality. It is neither looking down, or looking up. Stronger muscles and bigger fists should not be the decisive factor. There is no superior country in this world, and we do not accept that any country can dictate to others from a position of strength. Respect is to be earned with hard work, be it a country or a person. Major countries in particular should uphold justice and observe norms, and lead by the power of example.
The U.S. side repeatedly said that one should “never bet against America”. This, in fact, is a zero-sum mentality. China never bets against other countries. In this global village, China welcomes early progress in COVID response and full economic recovery in the United States. The success of one side does not mean that the other side has to fail. The world is big enough to accommodate a more successful China and a more successful America. The United States needs to stay confident, rather than suspicious. As Harvard Professor Joseph Nye said, America must avoid exaggerated fears, which can lead to overreaction.
We noted that the Biden administration stated that it would prioritize domestic issues and focus on serving the American working class. When the domestic issues are effectively addressed, the United States will maintain its vitality. Shifting blames to others, or even decoupling from the world’s second largest economy and turning against the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not help solve America’s problems. It will cause chaos in the world. The U.S. business community has made a clear point that they cannot afford to be locked out of the China market.
Second, we hope that the United States will work with China to explore a new path of peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial cooperation.
China and the United States should uphold the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and actively explore a way of peaceful co-existence between two major countries with different social systems. The U.S. side defines China-U.S. relations as having competitive, cooperative and adversarial aspects. It blurs the distinction between the “mainstream” and “sub-stream” of the relations and reflects a lack of a clear direction and goal. First, China has no intention to compete with the United States. What matters to us is constant progress and self-improvement. Second, if confrontation is played up, it will only lead to a lose-lose situation and thus should not be the orientation of the U.S. China policy. Cooperation is the only right way forward that meets the common aspiration of the two countries and the world. Cooperation should be a two-way street and mutually beneficial, instead of one side upping the ante and putting its interests first. We maintain that the right approach to China-U.S. relations is to step up dialogue, deepen cooperation, narrow differences and avoid confrontation.
China and the United States working together can make the “impossible” possible, and steer the bilateral ties toward sound and steady development. As for areas of cooperation, the most outstanding is joint efforts to address climate change, the most pressing is joint response to COVID-19, and the most promising is economic and trade cooperation.
China-U.S. relations are at a new crossroads. The key is whether the United States can accept the peaceful rise of a major country with a different social system, history and culture, and in a different development stage; whether it can recognize the Chinese people’s right to pursue development and a better life. The future of China-U.S. relations largely hinges on the answer of the United States to these two questions.
Third, we hope the United States will respect and accommodate the path and system China has chosen for itself.
What has happened shows that China’s socialist path with its own characteristics has not just leveled up the 1.4 billion Chinese people from poverty and backwardness, it also marks another major contribution of the Chinese nation to human progress. No one is entitled to negate the development paths of other countries, and no country will mold its system to others’ liking. At the end of the day, it is up to the people to decide whether their system and path work or not. China never copies others’ model. Neither does China export ideology or urge others to copy its way. What we advocate is that each country can choose a development path in light of its own circumstances and its people’s need, and all countries should respect and learn from each other.
Recently, some people tend to describe China-U.S. relations as “democracy versus authoritarianism”, seeking to draw the line along ideology and pin labels on countries. But democracy is not Coca-Cola, which, with the syrup produced by the United States, tastes the same across the world. The world will be lifeless and dull, if there is only one single model and one single civilization.
China’s socialist democracy is a whole-process, most representative democracy. It embodies the will of the people, fits the country’s realities, and is endorsed by the people. It is undemocratic in itself to label China as “authoritarian” or “dictatorship” simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than that of the United States. Using democracy and human rights to conduct values-oriented diplomacy, meddle in other countries’ internal affairs or stoke confrontation will only lead to turmoil or even disaster.
President Xi Jinping’s proposal to build a community with a shared future for mankind embodies the hope to rise above the differences in social system, abandon the zero-sum mentality and uphold the common values of humanity, i.e. peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom. All countries need to work together to protect Planet Earth, our one and only home, and make it a better place. A peaceful world should nurture diverse civilizations. A stable order should accommodate different systems. And a confident major country should be inclusive to diverse values. The most important thing that we learned from decades of China-U.S. exchanges is that our difference in social system does not prevent us from seeking common ground while shelving differences and pursuing win-win cooperation and peaceful co-existence.
Fourth, we hope that the United States will practice true multilateralism.
China has helped establish, contributed to and upheld the existing international system. We were the first country to sign the UN Charter. Some in the United States describe China as the only country able to challenge the international system in almost all respects. We absolutely disagree. China’s development has been achieved within the current international system. Why would we challenge a system that serves our interests, or start all over again?
What is deeply unsettling is the backlash against multilateralism in recent years and the danger of a divided world. The previous U.S. administration willfully walked away from international organizations, commitments and responsibilities, seriously disrupting the existing international system. We welcome the Biden administration to return to multilateralism. That said, China believes that true multilateralism means openness, inclusiveness, rule of law, consultation, cooperation, and keeping pace with the times. Multilateralism should not be used to form new opposing blocs or exclusive circles. Some in the United States often talk about strengthening “rules-based international order”. The question is: what rules? And who makes them? If it means the rules made by Western countries only, then they are made by only 12 percent of the world population, and they should not be the common rules for all. China’s view is clear – we must uphold the UN-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law. This represents the shared aspiration of all countries and true multilateralism in practice.
Fifth, we hope that the United States will not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
Sovereignty and territorial integrity are a country’s core interests. Like any other country, China has no room for compromise on such a major issue of principle. The United States should not repeatedly challenge China’s rights and interests on issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and at the same time expect China to cooperate with it on issues of its own concern.
The Taiwan question is the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations. Adhering to the one-China principle, opposing “Taiwan independence” and safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is also in the strategic interest of the United States. Playing the “Taiwan card” is dangerous, like playing with fire. Reunification is the historic trend. We will continue to work with the greatest sincerity and utmost efforts to strive for peaceful reunification. At the same time, we firmly oppose any separatist activities for any form of “Taiwan independence”. We hope that the United States will abide by the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, and not send any wrong signals to the “Taiwan independence” elements, or try to challenge, still less cross, China’s policy red line.
The Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion. They are about fighting violent terrorism, separatism and extremism. Faced with a grave situation of violent terrorism in Xinjiang a few years ago, the Chinese government acted to strike down on terrorist activities in accordance with law. It has taken a series of de-radicalization measures and resorted to education to remove the breeding ground for terrorism. These efforts have paid off. There hasn’t been a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang for over four years. People of all ethnic groups now live a safe and happy life. The claims of the so-called “genocide” and “forced labor” are nothing but lies driven by political motives. During its war on terror, the United States regarded China as a partner and the two sides agreed to designate the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) as a terrorist organization. Now the U.S. has dramatically changed its position, and announced that it would remove the ETIM from its list. Such double standards and willfulness made the international community wonder if the United States still has principles. We welcome American friends to visit Xinjiang to see for themselves what it is really like there, and not fall for lies or rumors.
With regard to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR enacted last year and this year’s decision to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system both serve to improve the system of One Country, Two Systems, ensure the sound and steady implementation of One Country, Two Systems, “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy, and achieve long-term security in Hong Kong. The revision of the electoral system is designed to implement the basic principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, which was explicitly put forward by Mr. Deng Xiaoping before Hong Kong's return as the political safeguard for advancing One Country, Two Systems. Administration by patriots is also common political ethics and practices. As the central government’s policies for administering Hong Kong have been steadily implemented on the ground, Hong Kong has seen a major shift from chaos to stability with its democratic system and legal environment further improved. The United States should respect the Chinese government’s efforts to implement One Country, Two Systems.
Some in the United States also talk about the so-called “coercive diplomacy” by China. The truth is, China in history fell prey to foreign coercion, even aggression. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A long-running feature of China’s foreign policy is that all countries are equal regardless of their size. We do not act in a coercive way, and we firmly oppose any country doing so. But China’s national sovereignty and dignity are being coerced and undermined, we undoubtedly need to respond with reasonable and lawful actions to safeguard our legitimate rights and interests as well as international equity and justice. China never threatens other countries with the use of force, build military alliances, export ideology, incite troubles in other countries’ doorsteps or meddle in their affairs. Neither has China ever started a trade war or wantonly gone after foreign companies. We are prepared to work with other countries against any act of coercion in the world.
We hope that in developing bilateral relations, China and the United States will send out more confidence in this warm spring, plant more seeds of cooperation for the benefit of people in our two countries and beyond, and reap harvests of global stability and development. At this critical moment, we hope all of you will continue to speak out for objectivity and reason, and contribute your wisdom and strength to promoting China-U.S. cooperation and upholding world peace.
Thank you. Now I am ready to take your questions.