Below is a full speech by Fu Ying, China’s NPC Chairwoman of Foreign Affairs Committee, at the University of Chicago on May 19. She talked about China’s growth and its experience with the evolving world order.
It is a great honor for me to address you today. As the renowned architect Frank (Lloyd) Wright said, “Eventually I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.”
But I wonder if you know that, in China, Chicago is more famous for its University.
This university is especially attractive to the parents who want to get their money’s worth, as this is known as a place “where fun has come to die”.
A great many musicians, scientists and politicians were nurtured here. And I am sure some of you will one day join them if you so choose. You have my best wishes.
I guess, most of the students here were born after 1990. In China, we call people like you “90hou”, meaning the post-90 generation.
You share one thing in common, that is, you are in synchronization with latest development of the world.
For my generation, by the time I first heard of an operating system called Windows, Mr. Bill Gates was already the richest man on earth. Now trendy Chinese wait on tenterhooks for every iPhone launch just like here. “Fast & Furious 7” is released in Beijing cinemas at about the same time as in Chicago.
I hope I am not too idealistic in thinking that since so much information is shared among young people all over the world, shouldn’t the younger generation be more open and more ready to understand each other?
Isn’t it possible to find a new way to build a global order capable of ensuring lasting peace?
When your President Obama spoke here on a father’s day a few years ago, he said, the most important thing for the parents is to pass along the value of empathy —the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes.
In that regard, the first point of my speech today is about China’s experience with the evolving world order.
Dr. Kissinger’s latest book World Order set off lots of discussion in China. It is absorbing to read the 400 years of rise and fall of powers since the Westphalia peace conference, and the wars and conflicts that led to power shifting.
However, as the book also pointed out, the Westphalian system was, as not universal, but one of the many systems that coexisted and yet in isolation from each other given the circumstances. Obviously, they didn’t have the internet.
While in China, where history had been carrying on for a long time, a different system of governance, values and traditions were nurtured, which have an influence to the present day.
So our view of history may have a different base. Let me pick up a few moments of history along the evolution of world order laid down in that book.
As you probably remember in your reading that, it was in 1648, Europe finalized the Westphalia Treaty to end the Thirty Years’ War and established a modern sense of order among nation states, recognizing their sovereignty and self-determination of internal affairs. Then it spread its colonial power to many corners of the world, including America and the United States freed itself and declared independence in 1776.
In this period in Asia, the long and generally peaceful relationship had continued. China’s Qing Dynasty was in its prime and the population in the 18th century was more than the European countries put together. But this serenity for almost 2,000 years was broken when the European imperialists arrived in the middle of 19th century.
By the time the Versailles Treaty was signed in 1919 at the end of the First World War, most part of Asia was colonized and China’s territorial integrity too had been violated.
By then, the last emperor of China had abdicated. The attempt by political elites to install a republic and western style parliamentary system had failed once and again in one way or another. The country was descending into chaos and conflicts. The young generation looked in other directions for a solution.
It was in this context that the Communist Party of China was set up in 1921 by a dozen or so young people mostly in their late 20s, not much older than you. (It’s amazing how young people change the world.)
Fast forward to 1941, when Henry Luce of Time Magazine stated the arrival of the American Century, two thirds of China’s territory fell under Japanese occupation. 35 million people died or wounded in war.
China will host a major commemoration September this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory of the War against Japanese Aggression. We will remember the heroes, reflect on history and the value of peace. China and the U.S. fought on the same side, and we will never forget the heroic American pilots who helped China during the war.
When peace did come in 1949 and the PRC was founded, the economy was on the brink, average life expectancy was under 35 years and more than 90 percent of the population was illiterate.
In other words, for many years following the end of the Second World War, when the two super powers contested for world power, achieving a sort of balance of terror, China’s main concern was its very survival, not least feeding its big population. There were many setbacks along the way in China. I still have a keen memory of the hunger and confusion of my younger days.
In the late 1970s China’s relationship with the world turned a new page. The Mainland regained China’s legal seat at the UN. The policy of reform and opening to the outside world led by Deng Xiaoping enabled China to reconnect with the world economy.
So when the Chinese talk about the international system, we are referring to the institutions with the UN at the center, and to which China has committed ever since. Learnt from its painful history, China believes in the principles of equality among all sovereign nations and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries as enshrined in the UN Charter.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, when attending the event marking the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference, reiterated the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.
The reason I took you on this brief journey is to illustrate that when discussing world order, we should be mindful of different experiences of history and their impact on our perspectives. And we may not have the same feeling for certain things.
Here comes my second point. How to look at China today?
Now China has very much grown. But, I have to say, knowledge and understanding of China in the outside world, especially in Western countries, hasn’t quite kept up.
A friend of mine, European journalist and a keen observer of China, summed up western media reporting on China into three categories. China is either
- incredibly big –biggest population, biggest cities, even big demand for luxury goods.
- or China is so bad – doing all the wrong things and not fitting into the norms.
- and China is so weird – eating weird stuff and having weird ways of doing things.
I receive many members of the US Congress often making their first visits to China. What strikes them the most is their encounters with ordinary Chinese, such as the migrant workers they bump into while visiting the Palace Museum, or young makers whose ambition is to be the next Jack Ma of Alibaba.
The ordinary people represent the true face of China and they are the real driving force for China to grow strong and successful.
So my third point is, what kind of future world order does China want to be part of? Is the future destined to be a confrontation between China and the US for world power as some suggest?
I often read memoirs by American politicians and I am always fascinated about how the US is deeply and effectively involved in the world affairs. Not only so, it’s equally enthusiastic about the internal affairs of other countries.
One cannot help but wonder: is the prevalent understanding of world order amongst Americans a world dominated by US rules and power? Is it only centered on American values and interests and supported by US alliances? Does that mean that from the US perspective, rising powers only have two choices: to submit or to challenge? What would you do if you were in this (our) situation?
China is one such rising power. It has grown largely by marrying its natural advantages to the opportunities offered by globalization rather than “flag before trade”. Capital, markets, resources and talents that had accumulated in western countries since industrialization, now have spread outward due to globalization.
Riding on this tide, China has made continued policy reforms and achieved 9% of growth for 30 years, allowing great improvement of people’s living standard, and growing into the world’s second biggest economy. It is now the first trading partner to 130 countries. It is even predicted that, China’s economy will be the world’s biggest by 2020.
And yet, international academics found, to their disbelieve that, most Chinese are disinterested in the debate about a new shifting of world power or power competition in the traditional sense.
For us in China, we see inconsistencies at play. For example, if someone or some groups kill innocent people in western countries, they are terrorists. Yet if the same thing happens in China, it’s often viewed as ethnic or political issues by foreign observers. When China’s neighbors act provocatively on territorial issues, the US turns its head away. Yet when China defends its interests, it is described as either assertive or a bully.
If we cannot even agree on the most basic premises, how can we have a meaningful debate on the evolution of world order? In Guangdong, when people are talking past each other, they are described as having a “dialogue between chicken and duck”.
China’s focus remains the many domestic challenges, such as environmental pollution, fighting corruption, countering the economic slow-down, improving the livelihood of the people.
On the question of what future world order should look like, the discussions in China are more pragmatic. Though views still differ, one thing people all agree on is that the world has changed. Many old concepts have lost relevance.
First, in today’s world, it is no longer possible to have different world orders coexist independently of each other and addressing separate issues, like in the earlier centuries. The orders of today need to open up and make adjustments to adapt to the new realities and to different perspectives.
Secondly, it’s no longer viable to try to achieve the transfer of power and find a new equilibrium through means of war among major powers because of the interconnected nature of today’s world.
Thirdly, what we are facing are the new kinds of global issues, which do not respect traditional order or sovereign borders. Look at Ebola. Look at ISIS. Look at the boat people trying to cross from Africa to Europe.
Therefore, there need to be new thinking to build a new global framework or，we may use the term global order，to cope with new type of challenges.
The good news is that, as we enter the 21st century, mankind is already experimenting in an innovative and collaborative manner to tackle the challenges, such as G20, and the conference on climate change.
For its part, China has initiated the land and maritime Silk Road programs to strengthen Asian and Eurasian connectivity, and is setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to support them.
All these practices are complementary to the existing international system and will help with its gradual evolution into a fairer and more inclusive structure.
Dr. Kissinger tellingly ended his book with a question mark: “where do we go from here”? Obviously, history has come to a turning point. The question is in which direction it will turn.
This question is also for China and the US. Do we have the resolve and wisdom to avoid the old loop and can we build a new type of relationship and global order through cooperation instead of confrontation?
That is why Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to President Obama to build what he called China-US new model of major country relationship.
Actually, in spite of the misunderstandings and stereo types, China and the US, have already made close partnership in many fields. We are even called reluctant twins. And the trust level is impressive too. Otherwise how can we give each other 10-year visas? So what the young generation is inheriting in our relationship has more positive elements than negativity.
To build a new model of relationship is an unprecedented endeavor for the two countries. We both understand the importance of strengthening cooperation, managing differences and creating a stable strategic framework for peace and development of Asia and even the world. This is the direction for our relations and is also our shared responsibilities.
So to end my speech, I want to say that evolving a global order for the 21st century is not going to be easy, and the answer takes time. The world will count on the young generation, and I am sure you will come up with good answers.