NOTE: The following is the keynote remark by Jean Chretien on the 3rd Hong Kong Forum on U.S.-China Relations held from January 19 to 21, 2022 and co-hosted by China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE). Against the stark backdrop of the ongoing global pandemic, the online forum — themed “Beyond Differences, Towards Cooperation” — brought together more than 30 global leaders and experts to examine key challenges and areas of cooperation facing the United States and China.
We aim to capture the forum in its entirety with the publication of all keynote remarks. The transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity.
The problem that affects every one of us on a daily basis, and will for a long time, is the relation between China and the United States. And of course, there are problems.
I was involved in public life 60 years ago. And I followed the debate and read the newspapers and magazines all my life. And I’ve never seen headlines telling that the world was working well. It’s always problems and problems and problems. But when you look back, you see the progress we have made.
In 1945, what was the place of China in world affairs? Not big. It was extremely difficult. You know, I was part of the Canadian government 51 years ago. We recognized China. It was a big political problem in North America when we did that, but the Americans followed, and others. And now China has become a big, big, big power in the world. So necessarily that creates problems.
But when you look around the world, you realize the progress we’ve made collectively. Today, for example, we just went two years in a pandemic that we were afraid would cause fantastic economic problems around the world. And we have come out of it, so far, extremely well.
Take the case we have in Canada: What are the problems we’re having that are the same as the United States and many other countries? We have problems with a shortage of labor. I’ve spent my life talking about how to cure the problem of unemployment in Canada — for generations. Now the biggest problem is, we can’t find people to fill the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are available in Canada.
And it’s the same thing in the United States and the same thing in many countries in Europe — the growth of trade, for example, between Canada and the United States, because we are close neighbors and we have the same kind of economy. We also had a big increase in trade between Canada and China last year. And, we’re apparently having a lot of political problems, but the trade has continued.
So, I tend to be an optimist. We have been able to go through this extremely difficult period — which could have been an extremely terrible recession — but we have seen growth around the world. Wealth keeps being created on a daily basis. The growth in Asia, the wealth that we see now, did not exist 30, 40 years ago. It has increased the wealth of the world. There is more money available in the world than we ever had.
We still have major problems. But there is a reality that, for example, there are around the globe a lot less people starving to death, as was the case 30, 40, 50 years ago. The people are getting an education, when it was a huge problem, improving every year. And there are less and less people around the globe who don’t receive education, as was the case in years past.
So for me, of course, the Americans need China. And China needs America, China needs Canada, China needs Europe, and this vice versa too. So we need to work together. And we always will find some solution. There is always a rhythm. There will always be problems.
There is not a day in public life that I wouldn’t make jokes when I was going to my office. I was saying, “If you cannot give me any good news, don’t give me any bad news.” Because news is never good. But we have managed to resolve the problem. What’s important, as Madam Robinson was saying before, and Mr. Goh said too, it’s dialogue! It’s what we’re doing right now!
Fifty years ago, I thought that we would have a conference across continents, talking and seeing each other. And there are dozens and dozens of these types of meetings that build the mentality in every country to say, “Let’s find solutions.”
Of course, the problem of nuclear disarmament has existed since 1945. The equilibrium probably ensures that nobody will ever use it, because it would be absolutely stupid to use it.
Climate change is a new challenge. But I look at that and I see the commitment that everybody is making. It will never be perfect. We have goals that we will probably not achieve neatly. But we’re moving in that direction. And everybody wants to move in that direction.
And in science and new technology, the opportunities change on a daily basis. So my conclusion is very simple. We have to keep talking. Nobody wants a war; everybody wants to create wealth.
For me, if I can make one pitch, if we want to maintain a good balance in the world, we have to work on one problem that affects every country: sharing the wealth that we are creating. One of the problems of the last 10 years is the rich are getting richer on a daily basis, and the poor are not increasing accordingly. And if we don’t attack this problem, it will create a lot of civil disturbances in many places around the globe.
So, we have to keep that in mind. If we don’t solve this problem, we will have internal problems in every country around the world. But if we can do that, it is possible to be able to share more among the people of every country. There will be more happiness, and when people are happy, they are optimistic. There is no danger of finding out problems.