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Foreign Policy

A Stable China-US Tie Is Crucial in A Messy World

Dec 08 , 2014

Below is the excerpts of the theme speech on China-US relationship by Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui at China-United States Exchange Foundation Annual Conference on Dec. 3, 2014, in Hong Kong.

The relationship with the United States occupies an important place in China’s diplomatic agenda. The Chinese government has all along viewed and managed China-US relations from a strategic and long-term perspective, and endeavored to develop a healthy and stable relationship with the United States.

I became the ninth Chinese ambassador to the United States in March 2010. When I arrived in the United States, I was overwhelmed by the invitations from all sectors of American society -government, Congress, subnational agencies, business community and think tanks. Sometimes, it was really impossible to accommodate all requests. I was invited not because I was special as an individual, but because of China’s development, and especially because that year China overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world. People in the United States and the international community wanted to know what China’s rapid growth meant to their country and the world, hence the growing interest in China.

President Xi Jinping had a historic meeting with President Obama at Sunnylands, California in June last year, only three months after he took office. It created a new model of interactions between the presidents of the two countries. They reached important agreement on building a new model of major-country relationship and set the direction for the growth of China-US relations in the future. The core principles are non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

Three weeks ago, President Obama came to China for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting and paid a state visit. This was his second visit to China, with the first one taking place in November 2009. The visit this time included both the full ceremony of a state visit and ample opportunities for in-depth discussions between the two presidents.

President Xi Jinping and President Obama spent more than 10 hours together. They talked about history and culture, and set out their views on China-US relations. They also shared with each other their respective governance philosophy and candidly addressed possible concerns about each other’s policies. President Xi outlined China’s efforts to deepen reform across the board, promote law-based governance and improve Party building. President Obama said that the United States supports China’s reform and opening-up, has no intention to contain China and that the US welcomes and supports a peaceful, prosperous and stable China playing a greater role in international affairs, which serves the interest of the United States.

In my view, the meeting could be described as a strategic discussion between China and the United States at the very top level. The two sides did not shy away from their differences. Much to the contrary, their focus was on cooperation. The discussions were frank, in-depth and constructive. Over 20 substantive deliverables were released in a list of outcomes.

The first deliverable is that the two countries made a joint announcement on their respective post-2020 climate change targets. China announced that it intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030, will make best efforts to peak early, and that it intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. The United States announced that it intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its 2005 emissions by 26-28% by 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce emissions by 28%. China and the United States are currently two large greenhouse gas emitters and major energy consumers whose combined carbon emission accounts for over one third of the global total. The joint announcement of new targets by these two large economies at a time when climate change negotiations have reached a critical juncture will inspire other countries to take effective actions along the same line.

The second deliverable is that China and the United States agreed on reciprocal visa arrangements. The two sides agreed to grant 10-year multiple-entry visas to business people and tourists and 5-year multiple-entry visas to students on a reciprocal basis. This arrangement has been warmly welcomed by people from both countries and will greatly facilitate the travel of citizens of both countries and promote bilateral cooperation in trade, investment, tourism, education and other areas. With visas valid for 5 or 10 years, millions of Chinese and US citizens would be able to just pick up their passports and air tickets and fly easily to each other’s country without having to spend much time or money on visa applications. My colleagues have told me that in the two weeks since the visa announcement on 11 November, over 30,000 10-year visas were granted to American citizens by Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.

The third deliverable is that the two militaries signed MOUs on confidence building mechanisms, including notification of major military activities and rules of behavior for the safety of air and maritime encounters. The initiative was first put forward by President Xi Jinping at Sunnylands last year and received positive response from President Obama. The above-mentioned mechanisms and rules will be a strong boost to mutual trust between the two militaries and lower the risks of strategic miscalculation and conflict between China and the United States.

The fourth deliverable is about business cooperation between the two countries, which serves as the anchor and booster of China-US relations. China-US economic relations are increasingly driven by trade and investment. During the fifth round of China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue held in July last year, the two sides announced their agreement to conduct substantive negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) on the basis of pre-establishment national treatment and a negative list. The two sides have so far held 16 rounds of negotiations with the 17th round due in Beijing this mid-December. During their meeting in Beijing, the two presidents decided to accelerate the BIT negotiations. It was agreed that the two sides will make best efforts to reach agreement by the end of the year on core issues and major clauses of the treaty and launch negative list negotiations next year. We hope to see a mutually-beneficial, win-win and high-standard treaty. On top of that, China and the United States also reached agreement on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) expansion negotiations. The agreement on expansion, if materialized, will be the first tariff reduction agreement in the 19-year history of the WTO. It will increase people’s faith in WTO multilateral negotiations and bring great opportunity to the Chinese and US economies and the economy of the world.

To sum up, the meeting between the Chinese and US presidents in Beijing was a very successful one. The outcomes and agreements reached will have positive, far-reaching implications for the future of China-US relations.

Undoubtedly, there is no denying that given the different political and social systems, histories, cultures, traditions, and development stages, China and the United States may differ in the way they see and handle relevant issues, and their interests and aspirations may not always be the same. As a matter of fact, there exist between China and the United States long-standing structural problems as well as new issues that have come up as the relations continue to grow. The lack of sufficient strategic trust is indeed a problem, as evidenced by the various misgivings within each country about the other’s strategic intention and direction of development. China is firm in its opposition to US interference in China’s internal affairs by using the questions of Taiwan, Tibet and human rights. China hopes that the US will respect China’s concerns and stay neutral on the question of maritime disputes. As for trade frictions, this is another pronounced issue that has emerged from the fast-growing China-US business ties. While handling these issues, we need to recognize that the common interests of China and the United States far outweigh their differences and that cooperation remains the mainstream of the overall China-US relations. On the other hand, we do not see the need to try to avoid problems. Rather, we believe it is necessary to face these issues candidly and address them through dialogue and communication on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit so as to handle and manage the problems in a constructive and effective manner.

China has called for the building of a new model of major-country relationship with the United States in order to avoid the so-called Thucydides trap, or the inevitable confrontation and conflict between an emerging power and an established power. It is by no means intended, as some people believe, to form a G2. China wants to explore a new model of interactions between major countries in a globalized world, and this new model we seek to build with the United States represents a natural choice that serves the interests of both countries.

In my view, a new model of major-country relations between China and the United States is not only necessary but also achievable.

In the past 35 years, the China-US relationship has come a long way and become one of the most important and dynamic bilateral relations in the world. Our interests are so closely intertwined. There are over 90 mechanisms of dialogue between the two governments. Our trade last year topped US$520 billion, setting a historical record. There are 42 pairs of sister states/provinces and 205 pairs of sister cities between us. Over four million visits were exchanged between the two countries last year, and 270,000 Chinese students have studied in the United States between 2013 and 2014. For five consecutive years, China has been the US’s largest source of international students. Building a new model of major-country relationship enjoys popular support and a strong material and social foundation and serves the fundamental interests of the two countries and our people.

Building a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States also serves the common interests of the international community. China and the United States together represent one third of the world economy, a quarter of world’s population and one fifth of global trade. Our relationship has gone beyond the bilateral scope and exerts a global impact. Economic growth of China and the United States, the world’s top two economies, will strongly drive and support world growth. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, we maintain close and effective communication and cooperation on regional, international and global issues such as the Iranian and Korean nuclear issues, Afghanistan, climate change and the Ebola epidemic. I agree with the view that in a messy world, a stable relationship between China and the United States is crucial.

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