The Right Way for China and the United States
to Get Along in the New Era
Speech by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi
New York, September 22, 2022
President Kevin Rudd of the Asia Society,
It is good to be back in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, and meet friends again after an interval of three years.
In the last few years, a lot has happened in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc; the global economy is in danger of a recession; and the Ukraine crisis has persisted and escalated. Issues involving food, energy, industrial and supply chains and climate change have become more acute.
The past few years have seen China-U.S. relations at a low ebb since the establishment of diplomatic ties. The reality of China-U.S. interdependence is ignored; the history of our win-win cooperation is misrepresented; channels of dialogue and communication are blocked. And the bilateral relationship is being defined and impacted dangerously by so-called strategic competition. This is bringing tremendous uncertainty to the future of our peoples and to countries across the world.
It is widely held that China-U.S. relations have well exceeded the bilateral scope and carry implications for the whole world. The global community expects China and the U.S. to take the lead, fulfill the responsibility as major countries, keep the bilateral ties stable and advance global cooperation.
Since last year, President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden have had several rounds of strategic communication in flexible ways. President Xi pointed out that whether China and the U.S. can handle their relationship well bears on the future of the world. It is a question of the century to which the two countries must provide a good answer. President Biden said that the U.S.-China relationship is the most consequential relationship in the world, and how this relationship develops will shape the world in the 21st century.
Both Presidents agree that they should make the China-U.S. relationship work and not mess it up. They both believe the two countries should steer clear of conflict and confrontation. And they both stand for closer bilateral exchanges and cooperation. President Biden stressed many times that the U.S. does not seek a new Cold War with China; it does not aim to change China’s system; the revitalization of its alliances is not against China; the U.S. does not support “Taiwan independence”; and it is not looking for conflict with China. People around the world hope that these important statements are translated into real actions.
If two fine orchestras are to work together harmoniously, their conductors must first set the same tone, and all the players must follow the same music score. However, what has happened is that the U.S. team seems to have two different sets of music score. Their leader’s political will of a stable bilateral relationship has yet to be translated into logical policies. The Chinese people and people from other countries find this confusing, and would naturally raise questions:
How will the U.S. deliver on its promise of not aiming to change China’s system, when it has framed a false narrative of “democracy versus authoritarianism”, a narrative that deliberately amplifies an ideological confrontation with China and takes aim at China’s political system, development path and governing party?
How can a new Cold War be prevented, when the U.S. has, identifying China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge, engaged in all-round containment, sought to encircle China by shaping the strategic environment around it, pressed other countries to pick sides and formed various small circles that exclude China?
How will the U.S. honor its important statement of not supporting “Taiwan independence” when it has, regardless of China’s strong opposition, allowed its House Speaker to visit Taiwan again after 25 years, kept elevating substantive relations with Taiwan by repeated official exchanges and arms sales including many offensive weapons, and is advancing the deliberation of the “Taiwan Policy Act” that threatens the very foundation of China-U.S. relations underpinned by the three Joint Communiqués?
And how to keep the industrial and supply chains between China and the U.S. and of the world stable, when the U.S. prolongs the trade war with China, keeping in place the extra tariffs on US$360 billion of Chinese goods though ruled inconsistent with the WTO rules, and extending the list of Chinese companies under its sanctions to over 1,000 entities and individuals?
The United States has, on the one hand, made repeated provocations on issues involving China’s core interests and development rights and interests, yet on the other, expressed a desire to keep the bilateral ties stable and prevent conflict and confrontation. This is self-contradictory in both logic and reality.
What is the crux of the matter? It boils down to how the United States perceives China, the world and itself. Be it full confrontation or strategic competition, both have deviated from the right course of China-U.S. relations.
Such deviations are dangerous and come at a high price. Mr. Kevin Rudd described the current China-U.S. relations as in a workshop with exposed wires and cables lying everywhere, water on the floor and sparks flying. Mr. Joseph Nye compared the relations to a sleepwalking syndrome that could stumble into a new Cold War. Should the United States handle its relations with China with a zero-sum mindset and continue to let “political correctness” misguide its China policy, it won’t find solutions to its own problems, but lead China-U.S. relations to conflict and confrontation. The message we must send, loud and clear, is that now is the time to make serious reflections and get back onto the right track!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s visit to China and the 40th anniversary of the August 17 Communiqué. History matters. It made things the way they are today, and helps shape a better future when its value is appreciated.
A few days earlier I paid a visit to Dr. Kissinger. We reviewed how, with twists and turns, China and the U.S. came to common understanding 50 years ago and the wisdom reflected in that episode of history. Since day one of their engagement, China and the United States have been aware that each is dealing with a country very different from oneself. Yet, these differences were no obstacles to us breaking the ice and establishing diplomatic ties, no obstacles to us deepening cooperation based on common interests, still less to us making joint contributions to world peace and prosperity.
Looking ahead to the next fifty years, the sound and stable growth of China-U.S. relations still depends on whether we could put these differences in perspective and, on this basis, get on to pursue our respective and common interests.
Regarding the right way for China and the U.S. to get on with each other, President Xi Jinping has given a clear answer. That is mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. These three principles are an important conclusion informed by the evolution of China-U.S. relations over the past 50-odd years. They are also the right way for major countries to live with each other in this era.
Let me first talk about mutual respect.
Without respect, no trust can be built. Without trust, conflict would be a real danger and actual cooperation could not happen. This is an important lesson drawn from past exchanges between our two countries, and also a basic prerequisite for the bilateral ties to return to the right track.
In the Shanghai Communiqué issued 50 years ago, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. Fifty years on, this guiding principle is all the more relevant. We now can see clearly that China will not become another United States, and the U.S. cannot mould China to its liking. Neither side is able to take the other down. This means we need to respect each other’s choices.
Defining one’s own choice as democratic and the other’s as authoritarian, and seeing success as changing the other side in one’s own image are neither consistent with the facts, nor realistic.
China respects the development path chosen by the American people. We welcome an open and confident United States that enjoys growth and progress. The U.S. should also respect Chinese people’s choice of development path, i.e. socialism with Chinese characteristics.
This path is tried and tested by the Chinese people with a clear logic of history. In modern times, the Chinese people explored relentlessly for a path to save and revitalize the nation. Various models including Western systems were put into practice, but none of them worked when they failed to fit China’s realities. By adapting Marxism to the Chinese conditions and to the traditional Chinese culture, the Communist Party of China (CPC) successfully rallied the Chinese people and led them in a united endeavor to gain national independence and liberation. Eventually, China found a right path toward prosperity and strength.
This path has opened up bright prospects for China’s modernization. We have built a moderately prosperous society in all respects, eradicated absolute poverty for the first time in the country’s history, and in a span of a few decades, transformed China from a poor and weak nation into the world’s second largest economy. China has fed nearly 20 percent of the world’s population with nine percent of its arable land. It now has a middle-income group that exceeds 400 million. The 1.4 billion Chinese people moving toward modernization and common prosperity will make a miracle come true in the history of development.
This path has brought true human rights and democracy to the Chinese people. The world’s largest social security network and compulsory education system have been set up. People’s all-round development is put front and center, and everyone stands a chance to reach one’s full potential. By integrating electoral democracy with consultative democracy, and procedural democracy with substantive democracy, we have advanced a whole-process people’s democracy that has won the people’s full support. Leading U.S. opinion polls show that the Chinese people’s approval rate of their government has stayed above 90 percent for several years running.
That said, we are clear-eyed that much remains to be done in China’s development. China’s per capita GDP has just exceeded US$12,000, and trails 60-plus countries. It ranks below the 70th place on the Human Development Index. These require that we stay focused on our primary task—making development more balanced and adequate and meeting the people’s higher expectation for a better life. While relying on our own efforts in developing the country and the nation, we are also ready to pursue cooperation of mutual benefit with the U.S. and other countries, to foster a favorable external environment for China’s development.
The Chinese people, with a time-honored civilization of 5,000 years, are confident and self-reliant, and humble and inclusive. China will unswervingly follow its chosen path and direction, and will forge ahead steadily along this path toward greater success. China will continue to draw upon the valuable experience of other countries and achievements of all civilizations, embrace the world with open arms and open its door even wider.
Some worry that China will export its ideology and threaten the values of other countries. This is completely unnecessary. China has no history of preaching to or lecturing others, and has no intention to export its system or path today. As early as 2,500 years ago, by observing the inclusiveness reflected in the laws of the universe and nature, Chinese philosophers came to the conclusion that “Just as all living things grow in harmony without hurting one another, different ways may run forward without interfering with one another.” Living in our times, we should approach differences with a greater largeness of heart than our ancestors, accept differences with an attitude of mutual respect, and actively pursue the state of harmony without uniformity.
Now let me move on to peaceful coexistence.
Partner or rival? Cooperation or confrontation? These are questions of fundamental importance in China-U.S. relations, and no catastrophic mistakes could be made. To hold the bottom line of peace, we must make the right choice.
I wish to tell you clearly that China chooses peace and commits to peaceful development. Our most basic expectation for China-U.S. relations is for the two countries to live with each other in peace.
As China develops, some people start to project China as a hypothetical enemy, and the so-called “threat inflation” ensues. This is typical excessive anxiety and is completely unnecessary.
Expansion, coercion and hegemony are never in the veins of the Chinese people. On the contrary, the Chinese believe in the ancient wisdom that “a warlike state will eventually perish”, and “a hegemonic state is doomed to fail.”
Six hundred years ago, navigator Zheng He of China’s Ming Dynasty led the most powerful fleets of his times on seven expeditions across continents, earlier than Columbus’ discovery of the new continent. Yet instead of engaging in colonization, killing or robbing, the Chinese brought tea, silk and porcelain.
I once visited a history museum in Istanbul, a meeting place of Western and Eastern cultures. An exhibition hall on the left displayed relics from Turkey’s exchanges with China, mostly silk and porcelain, whereas a room on the right showcased antiques from its exchanges with the West, mainly swords, guns and armor. These exhibitions speak to vastly different stories in history. Equating the ability to develop with an intention for expansion, or predicting China based on the beaten path of traditional powers will both result in serious misjudgment.
Today’s China is built on the heritage of ancient China. For 70-plus years since the founding of the People’s Republic, China has never provoked a conflict, occupied one inch of foreign soil, started a proxy war, or joined any military bloc. China has the best peace record among the world’s major countries. The CPC, China’s governing party, has incorporated peaceful development into its constitution, and China is the only major country that has codified peaceful development in the Constitution. China is committed to not seeking hegemony, expansion, coercion or sphere of influence, and it wants to live in peace with all other countries. This is undoubtedly a big contribution to global strategic stability.
For China and the U.S. to coexist in peace, we must follow the rules that both sides subscribe to. Bilaterally, they should be the three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués and the important common understandings reached between leaders of the two countries, rather than imposing one’s domestic law on the other. At the international level, they should be the basic norms governing international relations based on the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter — the rules and order established with the tremendous cost borne by the world anti-fascist alliance and the enormous sacrifice made by the over 35 million Chinese casualties. As a founding member of the U.N. and the first country to sign the U.N. Charter, China has no reason, still less the need, to reinvent the wheel. China and the United States have a responsibility to jointly uphold the order and rules. If the United States’ repeated reference to a “rules-based international order” means the above-mentioned rules, China has no objection. But if it means something else on which no broad-based international consensus exists, then the U.S. has no right to impose it on others.
The biggest obstacle to peaceful coexistence between China and the United States is the Cold War mentality. Just as colonialism faded out in the 20th century, the Cold War mentality has long become an anachronism in the 21st century. Some in the U.S. try to take China down by repeating the containment tactic used on the former Soviet Union, and hope to encircle China through geopolitical maneuvering like the Indo-Pacific strategy. Such attempts will only prove futile, because China is not the former Soviet Union, and the world is not what it used to be. Only after waking up from the Cold-War dream can one view and handle China-U.S. relations in a cool-headed, rational and realistic way.
Third, on win-win cooperation.
No cooperation can be based on a win-lose format. Win-win cooperation is not only possible, but also a must. This is the true narrative of China-U.S. relations in the past half a century, and it should remain the goal we both pursue.
No two major countries have closer people-to-people contacts or more interconnected interests than China and the U.S. do. Before COVID-19 struck, there were more than 300 flights between our two countries every week and over five million mutual visits every year. We once had more than 100 dialogue and exchange mechanisms, 50 pairs of sister provinces/states, and 234 sister city relationships. Despite the pandemic and additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese exports, two-way trade last year topped US$750 billion, up by 28.7 percent year on year, and two-way investment reached US$240 billion. Sixty-six percent of American businesses in China reported plans to invest more in China. During this trip, I met with the representatives of the U.S. business community. They shared the view that China-U.S. cooperation has benefited people in both countries and the world and hoped to achieve greater growth in the Chinese market. These solid facts and figures fully demonstrate that the Chinese and American people want cooperation and our cooperation is driven by win-win outcomes.
For some time now, a few Americans have been saying that win-win cooperation is only a political slogan. We cannot agree with this. As the world’s largest developing and developed countries, China and the United States have a lot to offer each other. We enjoy broad room for cooperation in a wide range of areas covering economy and trade, energy, science and technology, education, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. We shoulder important responsibilities in addressing global issues like COVID-19, economic recovery, climate change, terrorism, proliferation and regional hotspots. We have also worked together and accomplished big things for the good of the world, including combating terrorism, tackling financial crises, fighting Ebola, and pushing for the Paris Agreement on climate change. An unfailing truth in China-U.S. interactions is that we both stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is our best choice.
Undeniably, China and the U.S. have competition in areas like economy and trade, and China does not fear such competition. However, we do not agree that China-U.S. relations should be simply defined by competition, because this is not the entirety or the mainstream of this relationship. At the same time, competition should have boundaries and, more importantly, be fair play. It should be conducted in compliance with widely recognized rules, and not be fixated on undercutting the development capability of others and denying them the legitimate rights and interests. We need healthy competition that brings out the best in each other, not vicious competition that aims at each other’s demise.
One case in point here is what happened to the Chinese company Huawei. Huawei is a 100 percent private enterprise, yet the U.S. has deployed government resources to suppress it around the world, and even warned countries not to use Huawei equipment or face consequences. This is clearly not fair competition. Ideology driven, the U.S. has overstretched the concept of national security, built “small yard, high fence”, clamored for decoupling and cutting supply chains, pushed for “friend-shoring”, conceived the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and formed the Chip 4 Alliance. This is clearly not healthy competition. Such moves are not helpful to the U.S.’ own development. They will also disrupt global economic cooperation.
China has developed itself in the course of reform, opening up and integration into the world. China will not and cannot decouple from the rest of the world. In pursuing high quality development and fostering a new development paradigm, China needs closer connections with the world. By shortening its negative list on foreign investment and creating a more enabling business environment, China is providing its global partners with vast cooperation opportunities. And China welcomes greater success of American businesses in the Chinese market.
Based on equality and respect, China is willing to have more and better cooperation with the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed, in his China policy speech, six areas for U.S.-China cooperation. In my meeting with Secretary Blinken in Bali, I also produced a list for our cooperation in eight areas. Together, we can make the list of cooperation longer and the pie of cooperation bigger. The Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and other public goods proposed by China are open to all parties, including the United States, and China also stands ready for discussions on U.S. initiatives, to bring about win-win outcomes for our two countries and the world at large.
For cooperation to be win-win, there needs to be necessary conditions and atmosphere. It won’t do if the U.S. undermines China’s core interests and the foundation for bilateral cooperation on the one hand, and on the other, expects China to cooperate unconditionally. Such logic simply doesn’t work. Meanwhile, I wish to emphasize that no matter how China-U.S. relations may evolve, China, as a responsible major country, will remain actively engaged in addressing the many global challenges, fulfill its responsibilities, and make its contribution. We hope the U.S. will do the same.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Taiwan question is at the heart of China’s core interests; the one-China principle is the cornerstone of the political foundation for China-U.S. relations; the three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués are the most crucial “guardrails” for our relations. As things stand, the Taiwan question is growing into the biggest risk in China-U.S. relations. Should it be mishandled, it is most likely to devastate our bilateral ties.
Before any discussion of the Taiwan question, the premise should be made clear: Taiwan is a part of China’s territory; it has never been a country. Effective administrative jurisdiction of Taiwan by the Chinese government dates back hundreds of years. In 1895, Japan launched an invasion against China and forced the then Qing government to cede control of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands (also known as Pescadores Islands). It was an episode of humiliation in the history of the Chinese nation; yet the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait never ceased their struggle against aggression and separation.
In 1943, the governments of China, the United States and the United Kingdom issued the Cairo Declaration, which stated in explicit terms that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, shall be restored to China. The 1945 Potsdam Declaration signed by the three countries reiterated that “the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out”. When Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender in September later that year, it pledged to “carry out the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration in good faith”. The aforementioned legally-binding international instruments have fully restored Taiwan to China, both de jure and de facto.
It is evident that one-China has become part of the post-war international order, and the one-China principle, a universally recognized basic norm of international relations. The U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758 adopted in 1971 not only resolved once and for all the representation of the whole of China, Taiwan included, within the United Nations, but also eliminated any room for creating “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” in the international community. Over the past five decades, the U.N. has always referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China”: this is Taiwan’s only status in international law. Recognizing and adhering to one-China is also the political prerequisite for all the 181 countries in establishing diplomatic ties with China.
The U.S. also made unequivocal commitment of recognizing Taiwan as part of China. It is stated in black and white in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, the 1978 Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations, and the August 17 Communiqué of 1982, that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal Government of China. Successive U.S. administrations have clearly reaffirmed their commitment to the one-China policy and several U.S. Presidents have stated their opposition to Taiwan “independence”. All these have been kept on record.
However, not long after China and the U.S. established diplomatic ties, the U.S. side went back on its word and passed the Taiwan Relations Act, followed by the so-called internal “Six Assurances”, constantly fudging and hollowing out the one-China principle. Both were unilateral moves by the U.S. side. They run counter to the three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués. Hence, they are null and void from the very beginning, and the Chinese government has all along made clear its opposition.
Just as the U.S. will not allow Hawaii to be split away, China has the right to uphold the unification of the country as Taiwan is part of China. Since the Government of the People’s Republic of China is recognized as the sole legal government representing the whole of China, Taiwan should not be allowed to join any international organization with sovereign implications. If one recognizes the one-China principle, one should not engage in any official interactions with Taiwan. The logic here cannot be simpler.
Recently the U.S. has repeatedly referred to the “status quo in the Taiwan Strait”, and even accused China of “changing the status quo”. This is the very opposite of truth. To be frank, it is with U.S. interference and connivance that “Taiwan independence” forces have grown and expanded. They have kept making changes to the fundamental status quo that both sides of the Strait belong to one and the same China, and hence pose the biggest threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have jettisoned the 1992 Consensus which embodies the one-China principle, undermined the hard-earned prospect of peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and been bent on pursuing “incremental independence”. They have publicly called for Taiwan independence in the party platform, dished out a new “two states theory”, pressed for “de-sinicization” on the island, and stoked antagonism and obstructed exchanges across the Strait. “Taiwan independence”, like a highly destructive “gray rhino” charging toward us, must be resolutely stopped.
Of all the major countries in the world, China is the only one that is yet to realize complete reunification. National reunification is the shared wish and aspiration of all the Chinese sons and daughters. It is also clearly stipulated in China’s Constitution. “Peaceful reunification and One country, Two systems” — this fundamental guideline best meets the overall interests of the Chinese nation including the Taiwan compatriots, and represents the most practicable and inclusive solution to addressing the difference in system between the mainland and Taiwan. Such a solution is peaceful, democratic, of goodwill and benefits both sides.
Although the two sides of the Taiwan Strait practise different systems, it is not an obstacle to reunification, still less an excuse for secession. We have always worked with the greatest sincerity and effort to pursue peaceful reunification. But, we will never tolerate any activity aimed at secession. We reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This position is designed to forestall actions that violate the Anti-Secession Law; it in no way targets the fellow Chinese in Taiwan. Checking separatist activities for “Taiwan independence”, upholding territorial integrity and safeguarding peace in the Taiwan Strait is a sacred right that China exercises in accordance with domestic and international law.
The Taiwan question arose as a result of weakness and chaos in the nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. Reunification is the trend of history and the aspiration of the people. The U.S. should choose to stand on the right side of history.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In less than a month, the Communist Party of China will convene its 20th National Congress to draw a well-conceived blueprint for China’s development in the next five years and beyond. Since its founding, the CPC has taken happiness of the people and rejuvenation of the nation as its mission, and has also worked to advance progress of humanity and greater good for the world. Keeping to this founding aspiration, we will stand by the common values of humanity of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, and work with people in all countries to jointly advance the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Xi Jinping noted that, “The most important event in international relations over the past 50 years was the reopening and development of China-U.S. relations, which has benefited the two countries and the whole world. The most important event in international relations in the coming 50 years will be for China and the U.S. to find the right way to get along.” It is our hope that China and the U.S. will draw on past experience to find inspiration for the present, and gain strength for going forward. Together, let us explore a way to a China-U.S. relationship for the new era and create a better future for both of our countries!