President and Mrs. Carter,
Madam Li Xiaolin,
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is really a great honor for me to be invited to speak here tonight in front of such a distinguish audience. I know many of you have contributed so much to the relationship between China and the United States. I’m not really sure whether I’m the right person to speak tonight. Actually when President Carter welcomed Mr. Deng Xiaoping on the south lawn of the White House back in 1979, I was just a graduate student in Shanghai, watching TV coverage with such great excitement and admiration. But I’m very happy to join all of you for this forum on China-US relationship hosted by the Carter Center. I think the forum is taking place at the most appropriate time.
Almost exactly 35 years ago, President Carter and Mr. Deng Xiaoping took a historic step to normalize relations between China and the United States. That was a step taken with great vision and courage, and that was a decision that really changed the course of history. Now 35 years have passed. According to Confucius, people should be standing firm in life at the age of 30. The China-US relationship is 35 years old now. Indeed this relationship is standing very firm. With the joint efforts from the two sides in the past 35 years, this relationship has grown stronger, more comprehensive, more productive and more resilient than most people would have imagined at that time. And also according to Confucius, people should be free from perplexities at the age of 40. Although this relationship is still bothered from time to time by worries and doubts, there is a clear sense of direction for it in both countries.
Based on the joint efforts of eight presidents from both parties of the United States and successive leaderships in China to charter the course for our bilateral relationship, now our two presidents, President Xi and President Obama have set the goal for the future development of this relationship, which is to work together and build a new model of relationship between our two great countries. The task before us is to translate this great vision into reality. In doing so, I believe three things are important.
The first one is historical perspective. People often tell us that history is full of rivalries among great powers. I noticed that a few days ago in Tsinghua University my good friend Dr. Yan Xuetong had a very interesting discussion with Professor John Mearsheimer on this particular issue. I also share the view that human beings tend to make the same mistake again and again. But at the same time, I don’t think we should underestimate the capacity to learn. We should not overlook the profound changes that have taken place and are still taking place in the world. After all, we are in the 21st century, not in the 19th century and not in the first half of 20th century. Today, nations and peoples are much more connected than ever before. There are so many new players on the international scene, state players and non-state players. Today we are all faced with common challenges, many of which cannot be dealt with by military means alone. We are living in a very different world. What happened in the past does not necessarily have to happen again now or in the future. Indeed we have the responsibility to make sure that what happened in the past among the great powers will never happen again among the great powers of today and tomorrow, especially not between China and United States.
If we take a closer look at the more recent history of China-US relations in the last three to four decades, we have solid reasons to be optimistic about its present and the future. Our relationship has gone through so many changes and stood the test of so many challenges. We could have a very impressive list of events and changes we have gone through together. For instance, countering the expansionism of the former Soviet Union, restoring peace in Indochina, handling the consequences of the end of the Cold War, responding to 9.11 and the rise of international terrorism. Economically, we’ve gone through at least two major international financial crises. We are still confronted with such security challenges as non-proliferation, the Korean Peninsula, South Asia, and so many global challenges like climate change, disease prevention, poverty elimination, energy and food security, and so on. Indeed, we have handled quite effectively the crisis in the bilateral relations such as bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the EP-3 plane collision. Despite all these, or maybe just because of all these, our relations are much stronger than before, and our cooperation more comprehensive and more effective. We are really creating a new phase of history. That’s why I believe historical perspective is the first thing we need.
Number two, we both need an open mind. This is called for by the need for better mutual understanding and mutual respect. An open mind will enable us to have an objective and realistic understanding of each other. We will not only find out what differences we have but also why we have these differences and how we can turn them into opportunities or complementarities for our relations. Or at least we can see to it that these differences will not result in clashes and confrontation. An open mind will also enable us to be more appreciative, accommodative and supportive to each other’s domestic concerns and priorities.
In this regard, I would suggest that the United States be more open to the situation and new realities in China. Despite of all the talks about China being the second largest economy in the world, we are still a developing country with such a huge population and still face very serious problems of unbalanced development, poverty, environmental degradation, etc. When we talk about the Chinese dream, what we mean is China will rise from its own past. What China is trying to do is to surpass itself, not to prevail over anybody else, especially not the United States. I hope that people in the US would have an open mind to all this, to the realities in China and to the true aspiration of the Chinese people. That’s how we can achieve harmony without sameness and we can really develop common interest while shelving or managing our differences.
Five years ago, on the occasion of 30 anniversary of our relationship, President Carter said that mutual respect is the most important factor in maintaining and developing China-US relationship. Any potential disagreements we may have or competitions that may arise between our two countries would be resolved in the mutual respect way. We should all follow the President’s advice.
The third thing we need is a win-win mentality. This is the opposite of zero-sum game. In today’s world, we have so many common challenges, and the options before us are very simple: win-win or lose-lose. There is actually no zero-sum game to play. This is true in dealing with issues related to climate change, environment, disease and energy. This is also true, maybe especially true, in economic relations. Better access to each other’s market and greater flow of two-way investment will help both countries to create more jobs, raise living standards for its citizens and have a more successful and effective economic restructuring. In this regard, I just hope that the ongoing negotiations on the Bilateral Investment Agreement will be conducted in the win-win spirit.
The win-win mentality also means that we should always try to see benefits from the success of the other and never attempt to take advantage of the other’s problems. A stronger US economy would be something very much wanted in China, and stability and prosperity in China should also be good news for the United States. Likewise in the area of security, if we could work together for common security and cooperative security, we will have better security situation for both. If we try to play a zero-sum game or if we try to seek absolute security at the expense of security concerns of the other side, we will both end up in less security.
The best geographic area for this win-win mentality and practice is the Asia-pacific. We are both Pacific countries. Moreover, China is situated in the center of the Asian continent. We fully recognize the interest and presence of the United States in the Asia-pacific. Of course as an Asian country, we do have our own concerns and interests in the region. What China and the US should be aiming at is more cooperation than competition and a win-win outcome rather than zero-sum game. The Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both the United States and China. We do have shared interests in stability and prosperity of this region. This would not only serve our mutual interests but would also meet the expectation of other countries in the region, the expectation of our friends and partners.
These are the three things I would recommend for our future efforts on this relationship. In historical perspective, we have the letter “H”. In open mind, we have the letter “O”. In win-win mentality, we have the letter “W”. That’s “HOW” we build this new model of relationship.
35 years ago, the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party held the Third Plenum in Beijing. Soon after that, Mr. Deng Xiaoping came to the US for his visit. These two events took place so close to each other. I don’t think that was just a coincidence. 35 years later, another important Third Plenum of the Central Committee is right now taking place back in Beijing. Our two countries are engaged in the joint efforts to build a new model of relationship. I don’t think this is a coincidence either. This fully illustrates the interaction between domestic policy and foreign policy. The big picture is clear. Opportunities are just in front of us. But there is still no guarantee for success. Everything will depend on the choices we make now and we will make in the future. Based on our success in the last 30 to 40 years, I am sure we will make the right choice again, as did President Carter and Mr. Deng Xiaoping 35 years ago.
Thank you very much.