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Foreign Policy

China-U.S. Relationship Must Stop Getting Worse

Jun 12, 2023
  • Xie Feng

    Chinese Ambassador to the United States

Some of you have recently joined us in celebrating the 100th birthday of Dr. Henry Kissinger. The centenarian has reminded us of how important peaceful coexistence between China and the United States is to humanity’s future. The history of the China-U.S. relationship has told us that both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. The latter scenario would make the world suffer as well. President Xi Jinping has made it clear: getting this relationship right is not optional, but something we must do and must do well. The world is big enough for our two countries to develop themselves and prosper together.

Since my arrival two weeks ago, I have been reaching out to American friends from all walks of life. Their biggest concern, I learned, is about China and the United States slipping into conflict and confrontation. Their greatest hope is for this relationship to stabilize. If the world is to become better, the China-U.S. relationship must stop getting worse.

China has always placed importance on its relationship with the United States. It is ready to work with the U.S. side to enhance dialogue, manage differences, advance cooperation, and bring this relationship back to the right track at an early date.

To make that happen, I believe the following are important:

First, we need to follow the right direction. President Xi Jinping has proposed the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation. They represent the fundamental and right way for the two countries to get along in the new era. Among them, mutual respect comes first; peaceful co-existence is the red line; win-win cooperation is what we are aiming at.

We hope the U.S. side will work in the same direction with China, meet our people’s expectations, and take concrete actions to deliver on the common understandings between the two presidents.

We hope the U.S. side will respect China’s choice of development path and social system, the Chinese people’s right to a better life, and China’s core interests and major concerns. These are essential for this relationship to advance in the right direction, with no conflict, no confrontation and no new Cold War.

Second, we need to enhance dialogue and cooperation. China and the United States once had 100 plus dialogue mechanisms. And we all know why they have been shelved. Two years ago, an American friend advised me not to use “dialogue”, because the word almost became a taboo in the United States. I was bewildered.

The Chinese side has always been open to dialogue. During the past two years and more, President Xi Jinping had six meetings and phone conversations with President Joe Biden. In preparation for their most recent one in Bali, the Chinese side had eight rounds, in total over 24 hours of consultations with American colleagues.

Less than a month after the Bali summit, we invited Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink and then Senior Director Laura Rosenberger to Langfang, Hebei province. We had candid, in-depth, substantive, and constructive discussions for 10 hours, to follow through on the summit. Apart from trying the local delicious bites — donkey meat burger, we began the consultation on the guiding principles of China-U.S. relations, and explored a roadmap for high-level exchanges for this year.

Soon afterwards, however, the unmanned airship incident and Tsai Ing-wen’s so-called “transit” via the United States disrupted the positive agenda again. The Chinese side was very much disappointed.

The United States has recently expressed its intention to increase high-level contact and return to the Bali agenda. It has also expressed the hope to find a way to lower risk and stabilize and improve the relationship. The Chinese side takes these statements seriously, and has made positive response.

Director Wang Yi, State Councilor Qin Gang and Minister Wang Wentao met with NSA Sullivan, Ambassador Burns and Secretary Raimondo respectively. Each of these meetings was candid, in-depth, substantive and constructive.

Ambassador Burns invited me to a dinner before my departure. Later he tweeted about our constant communication — 23 meetings during the year past.

As a Chinese saying goes, “Good faith makes good things happen.” Dialogue should be based on mutual respect and aim for real results. It surely is not the right way to seek dialogue and cooperation while putting the other on the sanction list. Dialogue conducted only for its own sake will not work either. Saying one thing but doing another could only bring unintended results.

For high-level interactions, whole-process management is essential—fostering good atmosphere in advance, accumulating outcomes in the process, and delivering on them afterwards.

Third, we need to defuse the flash points. A pressing task is to bring the Taiwan question, the biggest risk, under control. No one wants peaceful reunification more than China does. We are also the last that wants tensions or warfare across the Taiwan Strait. It is not the Chinese side who simulated the war game, changed the status quo or stoked crisis.

The Taiwan authorities are seeking U.S. support for their independence agenda; while some in the United States are proposing to use Taiwan to contain China. These are the biggest threats to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Now, the most fundamental thing is to fully and faithfully adhere to the one-China principle; the most important is to abide by the three joint communiqués with real actions; and the most pressing is to match words with deeds and oppose adventurism and provocation by the “Taiwan independence” forces.

Upon arrival at D.C., I talked to Chinese and American media, and the video was posted on twitter. Many American netizens left their comments. One said this, “I hope you find some allies; there are a few hiding in the darkness afraid of being crushed.” Indeed, I feel that many American friends want to speak up for China-U.S. cooperation, but hesitate to do so. They are afraid of being “politically incorrect”. To them, let me say the following:

First, stabilizing China-U.S. relations is compatible with upholding national interests. Over 50 years ago, Chinese and American leaders put to an end the 22-year mutual estrangement, in a spirit of finding common interests between countries with different social systems. They brought about good results for our two countries as well as the world.

Today’s China-U.S. relationship bears on not only the well-being of the 1.7 billion Chinese and American people, but also the world’s future. By forestalling conflict and confrontation and upholding a stable China-U.S. relationship, one is promoting the common interests for both countries and contributing to world peace and prosperity.

I remember the inscription at the gate of the Commerce Research Library: “Cultivate peace and commerce with all.” The United States used to champion globalization and free trade, encouraging others to open their doors and become part of the world economy. Back-pedaling and turning inward would not serve anyone’s interests.

Recently, the U.S. side has expressed its non-intention to decouple with China. But some are now using another word, “de-risking”. To some Chinese, the two mean no difference. They liken this to putting the same wine in a different bottle. They ask, what and where are the risks? And how will such “de-risking” be realized? They worry that “de-risking” may be just another name for “decoupling”.

Surely, every country has national security to take care of. But national security is not an excuse for protectionism. If national security is used as a hammer, then everything will look like a nail.

One country’s security cannot be built on the insecurity of others. Nor can a country keep its industrial chains stable if those of the world are not. “When the nest is overturned, no eggs can stay unbroken,” so to speak. Now, over 1,300 Chinese entities are put on U.S. lists of control and sanctions. Tariff is imposed. Export is controlled, and investment screened. A trade war had barely ended, when an industrial war and a technological war started. But will these measures truly make America more secure? Are they really in America’s interest?

Second, trade and economic cooperation can reinforce the pursuit of common development. China and the United States have a lot to offer to each other in terms of industrial strength. Such cooperation has lowered the costs for American households and brought profits to American companies.

According to USCBC report, U.S. Exports to China 2023, over one million American jobs were created by such exports.

For KFC, China is its biggest market; for Estée Lauder, its second biggest market; and for Starbucks, China is home to over 6,200 of its stores.

In the recent five years, the return rate of FDI in China reached 9.1 percent; of the over 70,000 American companies doing business in China, nearly 90 percent are earning profits.

AmCham China has noted that the Chinese market is not an option but a must. Nvidia’s Chief Executive Jensen Huang, in his conversation with the Financial Times, said that U.S. export controls to slow Chinese semiconductor manufacturing would cause major losses to the U.S. tech industry.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra said that China remains a key market for GM, and she looked forward to developing more clean and intelligent cars with its local partners.

Third, a sound China-U.S. relationship means a lot to the business community. A good overall environment makes doing business a lot easier. A higher river will lift all boats. If the China-U.S. relationship gets worse, the business community can hardly stay unaffected. We are all stakeholders. None of us shall sit idly by. Every one of us needs to take actions.

I call upon you to speak up for free trade and open market, as this serves our common interests and the stability of global industrial and supply chains.

I hope you will stay fair and pragmatic, be committed to cooperation with China, and say no to politicizing economic issues. With your help, we could faster and better resolve issues such as increasing direct flights, easing travel advisories and facilitating visa procedures. These will bring more positive energy to the bilateral relationship, and help both peoples live a better life. 

(The above is based on the keynote speech by Ambassador Xie Feng, P.R.C.’s top envoy in Washington D.C. at a June 8 welcome event hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council. The speech is titled “Mutual Respect, Peaceful Coexistence and Win-Win Cooperation — The Right Way for China and the United States to Get Along in the New Era”. Ambassador Xie arrived in Washington D.C. in May, 2023 and he is the 12th China Ambassador to the United States.)


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