Zeng Peiyan: At a Critical Crossroads

Jan 26 , 2021

Zeng Peiyan, Chairman of China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) and and Vice-Premier of the State Council.


Respectable former Prime Minister Chretien, former Prime Minister Prodi, former Prime Minister Fukuda, Vice Chairman Tung, former Commerce Secretary Gutiérrez, former Trade Representative Hills, ladies and gentlemen,

I’m very glad to see you here via video link.

The China-U.S. relationship has sunk into unprecedented troubles in recent years. One important reason is the U.S. cherishes strategic suspicion and anxiety regarding China, believing a rising socialist China will inevitably become a “threat,” and the two countries will inescapably fall into a Thucydides trap. I believe it is completely wrong to see and handle China-U.S. relations based on such Cold War thinking and ideological prejudices, and the outcomes can be extremely dangerous. Let me share a few points here:

First, differences in social systems don’t mean China and the U.S. will necessarily come to confrontation.

The formulation of any system and model has its specific cultural and historical conditions. China and the U.S. operate under different social systems, which are determined by their respective history and the choices their people made. A country’s people are in the best position to judge whether or not their country’s development path suits itself well. The Chinese civilization boasts a history of over 5,000 years, during which such ideas as “harmony is precious,” “harmony without uniformity,” “universal love” and “no offense” have melted into the blood of the Chinese nation. In modern times, having been through foreign aggressions and suppressions as well as vicious exploitation, China has finally chosen the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Practice has proved such a path is in full conformity with Chinese national conditions, and has won the endorsement and support of the Chinese people.

China has always advocated seeking common ground while shelving differences and respected people of all countries’ in the choice of their own development path. China has no intention to change the U.S., or to replace the U.S., and it is impossible for the U.S. to change China based entirely on its own will. The world is not about black-or-white binary opposition but a colorful place where all countries display their respective advantages and each gets what it pursues and deserves, and where all kinds of social systems can coexist in peace and advance together.

Second, changes in our time have overthrown the theoretical foundation of the Thucydides trap.

Take a look at the historical background of the Thucydides trap theory: At the time and a considerably long time afterward, the natural economy was the mainstream in human societies, and countries competed for such resources as land, population and grains by means of war or colonial plundering, thereby obtaining benefits and even establishing hegemony. The devastation of two world wars has brought humanity profound disasters and painful lessons. And the pursuit of peace and opposition to war and hegemony have since been the theme of our time.

In step with scientific and technological innovations and economic globalization, large-scale cross-border flows of such factors as goods, technology, human resources, capital and data have become reality, forming the macro market, macro circulation and macro equilibrium of global factors, interweaving countries’ interests and leaving them mutually dependent. Win-win cooperation has taken the place of zero-sum gaming, and rules-based international economic competition and cooperation have taken the place of war to become the main forms to balance countries’ interests. The existence of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear ones, has given rise to “nuclear deterrence” and facilitated checks and balances between major countries. Playing with fire will result in a destructive war with no winners, the outcomes would be unimaginable.

In order to meet common challenges and promote common progress, President Xi Jinping put forward the important proposal of building a community with a shared future for humanity. I believe this conforms to the characteristics and objective laws of the development of international relations. China and the U.S. should get rid of the zero-sum thinking of a rising power versus an incumbent one and jointly build a China-U.S. relationship featuring coordination, cooperation and stability.

Third, China is a participant in and contributor to the current international order, rather than a challenger and saboteur.

The existing international order, which was established after WWII, has by and large preserved peace, progress and prosperity for the world, and is thus a tremendous contribution to humanity. China has also actively participated in it to jointly deal with various global problems and challenges. It is safe to say this period has been one in which the global economy saw its fastest and most steady growth, during which all countries, including China, benefited the most. We have no reason to challenge and overthrow the present international order.

Of course we are all aware that the present-day international order at some point can’t adapt to changing conditions. But what China advocates is to reform and improve it, absolutely not to create a new one from scratch. China’s idea of the Belt and Road Initiative, following the principle of “consultation, contribution and shared benefits” and its launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are meant to explore and experiment on ways for more countries to achieve common development under the existing international order.

Fourth, China’s development brings the world opportunities, not threats.

China is the largest developing country in the world, but its per capita GDP remains just one-sixth that of the U.S. With limited resources, we have allowed 1.4 billion people to bid farewell to poverty, ensuring that people can live and work in peace and contentment and that society can advance steadily. This in itself is a contribution, rather than threat, to the world.

China’s development has been helped by its open cooperation with other countries. China will be well only when the world is well. Likewise, the world will be well only when China is. Since the inception of reform and opening-up, China, with an average annual growth of 9.4 percent, has become a main stabilizer and driver of global economic growth. China was the only major economy that saw positive growth in 2020 and remains the biggest engine for global growth.

From a China-U.S. perspective, bilateral trade has grown more than 250 times in the past 40 or more years since diplomatic relations were established, more than 2.6 million jobs in present-day America were created thereafter; two-way investment has climbed to nearly $240 billion from almost zero; over 90 percent of U.S.-invested companies in China have seen profits. Tesla has witnessed its production capacity and sales expand dramatically since entering the Chinese market. Its local output is expected to surpass 500,000 electric vehicles this year, accounting for half its global total.

China is racing against time to build a new development pattern where domestic circulation plays the leading role while domestic and international circulations facilitate each other, and to engage in all-around opening-up on a larger scale, in a broader scope and at a deeper level. China is expected to import goods valued at over $22 trillion in the next 10 years for a mammoth market of 1.4 billion consumers, the world’s largest and most rapidly growing middle-income population. That is both where China’s development potentials lie and where potential for global growth lies.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20. Hopefully the U.S. side can avail itself of this opportunity to adjust its ways of thinking and doing things, meet China halfway to increase strategic mutual confidence and achieve a position of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

First is to accumulate mutual confidence via restarting and improving mechanisms of China-U.S. communication at multiple levels.

The two sides should waste no time restoring strategic dialogue at high levels, and providing leadership for the development of bilateral ties; they should take advantage of all kinds of dialogue mechanisms established in the past; adhere to issue-oriented, constructive dialogue; and, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, take dialogue and consultation as the basic channels for resolving problems and bridging differences.

Friendly ties between countries have their roots in the people. The U.S. side should eliminate the practices of building walls and imposing restrictions in China-U.S. people-to-people exchanges, and rather create favorable conditions for the two countries' communication and cooperation in all areas. The two sides should actively conduct “Track II” dialogues between nongovernmental organizations, enterprises and think tanks, as well as exchanges in such fields as education, science, technology and culture, so as to increase mutual understanding and friendly feelings between the two peoples, and improve the public opinion foundation for bilateral ties.

Second is to consolidate mutual confidence by reshaping China-U.S. economic and trade relations.

China-U.S. economic and trade relations have always been a ballast and stabilizer for bilateral ties. But they have suffered dramatic damage over the past few years, harming both Chinese and U.S. interests, as well as the global economy. The essence of China-U.S. economic and trade ties is win-win cooperation.

Not long ago, China signed the RCEP with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries, finished negotiations with the EU on a bilateral investment agreement and declared it would actively consider joining the CPTPP. This fully showcased China’s resolve to carry out structural reforms and promote institutional openness. China and the U.S. should take an attitude of active cooperation and engage in a new round of economic and trade negotiations on the basis of comprehensive, objective evaluation of their phase one economic and trade deal; cancel the high tariffs they have imposed on each other since the start of trade war; scrap unreasonable restrictions on investment; restart BIT negotiations as soon as possible; and push China-U.S. economic and trade relations back onto the right track.

Third is to deepen mutual confidence through global governance.

Humanity is going through a stage of great development and great adjustment. It’s also a time of mushrooming challenges and increasing risks. The traditional global public goods regime is no longer capable of meeting present-day needs. It brooks no delay to enhance global governance cooperation and build fairer and more just rules and institutions. Major countries have significant influence in global governance. As the world's largest two economies, China and the U.S. must shoulder common responsibilities and share broad common interests in such fields as pandemic containment, world economic stability, climate change, poverty alleviation, grain safety, cyber security, anti-terrorism and nonproliferation. The two countries should strengthen coordination, build a framework for cooperation, and join hands with other nations to tackle pressing global issues and major challenges facing humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen, 50 years ago, Dr. Kissinger’s China visit broke the ice and facilitated the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic ties, which have exerted a profound and positive influence on both countries and laid solid groundwork for global prosperity and stability in the past half century. Today, we are again at a critical crossroads, which calls for similar courage and vision. Let’s work together to open up a broad path forward for the healthy, steady progress of China-U.S. relations.

Thank you!

View Zeng Peiyan's remarks in Chinese.