Remarks by Ambassador Cui Tiankai at the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) Annual Conference – Prospects and Challenges for U.S.-China Relations
July 25, 2017
Chairman Wu Shicun,
Director Hong Nong,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. I want to thank the Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS) for inviting me to join your discussion about the future of China-U.S. relations.
The relationship between China and the U.S. is a strategic one. To understand this relationship, we need to know the path we have traveled, but more importantly, steer the direction we are heading to. We need to discuss the issues, but more importantly, understand the whole picture.
In July forty-six years ago, Dr. Henry Kissinger made his legendary visit to China. It marked the beginning of the visionary efforts of the leaders of China and the U.S. to break the ice between our two countries and start a new relationship. In the almost half century since then, this relationship has withstood the test of the Cold War, survived the ups and downs afterwards and made historic progress. It is now facing new circumstances of the 21st century with unprecedented opportunities and challenges.
Looking into the future of China-U.S. relations, we have to give answers to some important questions. What kind of relationship that we should build together, in the interests of both countries, as well as of the world? Will conflict and confrontation be unavoidable between China and the U.S.? Is the “Thucydides trap” so insurmountable that China and the U.S. are destined for war? Can China and the U.S. blaze a new trail in international relations in which countries, especially the major ones, engage in win-win partnership instead of zero-sum rivalry?
This is a historic challenge to both our countries.
It is a test on our understanding of the new realities of today’s world. It is a test on our ability to grasp the major trends of the 21st century in the economy and in politics, in science and in technology, and in society and in culture. It is also a test on our determination and courage to take the lead and pioneer the transformations.
This is a historic opportunity for both our countries.
If we make the right choice now, we both will have the opportunity to win a stable and supportive international environment while addressing pressing domestic agenda. We will also have the opportunity to build a more solid foundation for future China-U.S. relations and for a better world order that will benefit all nations.
This is also our shared responsibility.
It is our responsibility to our people. The Chinese people and the American people both have great aspirations. When China and the U.S. work together, both the Chinese dream and the American dream will have a much better chance to come true.
It is our responsibility to future generations. We owe it to our children and their children that they can look forward to a better life, greater happiness and a brighter future.
It is also our responsibility to the global community. China and the U.S. are the two largest economies in the world. Both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. We owe it to the world to join hands in safeguarding world peace, promoting global prosperity, protecting the world environment, and maintaining and reforming the world order.
Therefore, the choice before us is clear and there is actually no alternative. China and the U.S. have to work together to build a strong and stable relationship that is based on the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. We should not fight another Cold War, still less a hot war. Nor should we be content with “cold peace”. The best way of overcoming a trap is to open up a new path. Our historic mission is not the transfer of global dominance from one power to another, by war or by less confrontational means. Rather, our mission is to establish a new model of international relations that are based on common interests and shared future.
Since President Trump took office, China-U.S. relations have made important and positive progress thanks to the concerted efforts of the two sides. Our two presidents have set a constructive tone and pointed the way forward for China-U.S. relations with their successful meetings in Mar-a-Lago in April and in Hamburg during the G20 summit earlier this month. The two sides established four high-level dialogue mechanisms, covering diplomatic and security issues, economic relations, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and law-enforcement and cyber security.
The first round of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue held last month was very successful. So was the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED) last week. At the CED, the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on a broad spectrum of topics, including macro-economic policy, the 100-Day Action Plan and a one-year plan, global economy and governance, trade and investment, services, agricultural cooperation and high-tech trade.
Among the objectives achieved by the dialogue, let me try to highlight a couple of points that may not have been sufficiently emphasized in the media. First, the efforts made by the two sides for the success of the discussion reaffirm the commitment to conduct the economic relations and manage possible differences through dialogue and coordination rather than confrontation. Both sides recognize that while dialogues may not solve all problems at once, confrontation will lead nowhere. Second, the fact that the two largest economies in the world have chosen to engage in constructive dialogue for mutual benefit gives the world the optimism it badly needs. Amid considerable uncertainties in the global economy, such reassurances will help boost business confidence more than any specific deals.
Whereas our cooperation has yielded positive outcomes, China-U.S. relations are never free of difficulties and challenges. We should make every effort to fend off any risk that could derail China-U.S. relations. Here I wish to point out the following:
First, the One China principle. It is the political foundation of China-U.S. relations and not to be challenged under any circumstances. The three joint communiques between China and the U.S. have laid down the principles for handling the Taiwan issue, which the U.S. has the obligations to abide by.
However, there have been some alarming developments recently. U.S. arms sale to Taiwan is continuing. There are also attempts to upgrade official contact and even resume military ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. China is firmly opposed to such provocations against its sovereignty and national unity. There is absolutely no room for negotiation on this issue.
The question of Taiwan actually started from U.S. intervention into China’s civil war seventy years ago. If, seven decades later, there are still people here in the U.S. trying to interfere in China’s internal affairs and challenge the one China principle, it only proves that they are on the wrong side of history.
Second, the Korean nuclear issue. China and the U.S. share the common goal of denuclearization, though we also have differences in terms of how to achieve the goal.
The Chinese side stays committed to the denuclearization, peace and stability of the Peninsula, and maintains that the Korean nuclear issue should be solved through dialogues. The “dual-track” approach and the “suspension-for-suspension” proposal put forward by the Chinese side show a realistic way out of the current impasse. We are also open to creative and practical ideas from others especially the U.S. There is ongoing consultation between China and the U.S. on the issue and we hope that all parties concerned will join the diplomatic efforts and work towards the same direction.
At the same time, we are against the U.S. decision to deploy the THAAD system, which poses serious threats to China’s strategic security. We also object to the “secondary sanctions” imposed by the U.S. on Chinese entities and individuals according to U.S. domestic laws. Such actions are unacceptable. They have severely impaired China-U.S. cooperation on the Korean nuclear issue, and given rise to more questions about the true intention of the U.S.
Third, the South China Sea. The essence of the issue is disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction among some regional countries, not strategic rivalry between China and the U.S. Such disputes should be addressed by countries directly concerned through consultations. That is exactly what China and other countries concerned are doing now. If the U.S. truly takes no side on territorial disputes as it claims, it should refrain from escalating the situation there and support the consultations among the countries concerned.
As for the concept of freedom of navigation, it has been distorted and abused. The fact is that the U.S. freedom of navigation operations were originally designed as a counter-measure against the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Such operations in the South China Sea violate China’s rights and interests, fan up tensions in the region and run counter to the letter and spirit of the Convention.
If the U.S. truly cares about the UNCLOS and the freedom of navigation, it should undertake the obligations of the Convention as a contracting party, and work with us to improve international maritime order and take effective measures to counter pirates and terrorists on the high seas, rather than taking provocative military or political actions in other people’s waters.
Having said all this, I would like to reiterate that the mutual needs and common interests between China and the U.S. far outweigh our differences. The relationship has grown stronger and more resilient over the decades not because it is free of difficulties, but because we have always kept the big picture in mind, seized opportunities to expand our cooperation and managed our differences in a constructive manner.
President Xi Jinping said at the Mar-a-Lago summit that there are a thousand reasons for us to make China-U.S. relations work, but not a single reason to break it; and cooperation is the only right choice for China and the U.S. going forward. I hope that our two great countries will continue to demonstrate wisdom, courage and good faith, and work for further progress of China-U.S. relations on the right track of win-win cooperation.