China's Foreign Policy and China-U.S. Relations


China's Foreign Policy and China-U.S. Relations

Ambassador Cui Tiankai

China Forum, SAIS

October 8, 2013


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me first thank Dean Nasr for the kind introduction. It is truly a great pleasure to be back to school again. As a former student, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to my professors for their important contribution to my education. As the Chinese Ambassador, I wish to thank SAIS for the continuous support of China-U.S. relations over years and in particular for helping train young Chinese diplomats all these years.

My assignment today is to talk about China's foreign policy and China-U.S. relations. It is a subject that almost everyone from everywhere knows something about and has something to say about. Let me try to share with you how I, as a practitioner, see it and understand it. I am not here to repeat the official lines. Rather I just want to offer my personal point of view on what is behind the official position and how all this could be seen in its proper perspective.

On China's Foreign Policy

While this is a subject that many people have studied, discussed, written about, and lectured on, it is also a subject that is often misunderstood or misperceived. Thus a revisit to this policy, especially going under the policy level for a closer look at China's history and culture behind the formulation of this policy, is extremely important. Connecting the dots of history, culture and foreign policymaking is even more important.

China's foreign policy could be summarized in a very short and simple formulation: the independent foreign policy of peace.

There are two key words in it: independent and peace. Actually these two words define the nature of the whole policy.

First, why independent? China has been an independent country since ancient times. We cherish independence as one of our fundamental values. But from 1840 to 1949, China was invaded by foreign powers time and again, and lost much of its independence and sovereignty as a result. For instance, China's custom service from 1861 to 1911 was controlled by a British official, Robert Hart. China was coerced into 343 unequal treaties at gunpoint, paid more than 40 million kilograms of silver as war damages for wars fought on its own land, and lost 1.6 million square kilometers of territory. China had little say on its own fate and was not treated with respect, justice or fairness on the world stage.

Theses one hundred years or so are remembered by the Chinese nation as "the century of national humiliation". This led to the Chinese revolution in the 20th century and motivated generations of Chinese in the struggle to regain national independence. It is still a driving force today behind the national efforts for revitalization and modernization.

All nations cherish independence. But for China, independence was almost lost and was regained with such sacrifice. That explains why the Chinese people hold independence so dearly. And it is only logical and natural that it becomes one of the fundamental principles in China's foreign policy.

It must be emphasized here that when we reflect on this "century of national humiliation", we are not talking about seeking revenge. We just want to safeguard our independence and sovereignty like the rest of the world. Based on our own experience of sufferings in the past, we know that two wrongs don't make a right. A world where some nations are more equal than others is a horrible place for all. We want to take history as a mirror and guidance, so that what was done to us will never be done to anyone any more. This leads me to our second principle: peace.

Second, why peace? Peace is the proclaimed policy goal for almost all nations. At the same time, the world has witnessed numerous breaches of peace. To maintain peace everywhere in the global village is still an unfulfilled task for the international community.

Then, what is the special significance of peace for China? How do we see it in China? Of course there are many practical considerations for peace. Here I want to focus on a factor that is not so material or tangible., but more profound and lasting. That is our culture.

If there is a single Chinese character that best speaks for Chinese values, it would be "和". It can be translated as peace, harmony, reconciliation, integrity, and benevolence. We believe that harmony can and should be achieved by accommodating diversity. So we say "和而不同", i.e. "harmony without sameness". We also believe that this spirit of "和" brings good fortune to everybody. That is to say "和气生财". Even the Chinese term for "peace", "和平", actually means that tranquility is achieved by following the spirit of "和", if we look at these two characters closely. That is why Confucius said that "和is the most precious thing under the heaven".

Indeed, "和" has been the guiding principle for the Chinese society over several thousand years in addressing all issues, within and between families, groups and communities. It is not exaggerating to say that it is in our nation's DNA. And it is only natural that it should find its way into our foreign policy. It is both the means and the end. It is both a matter of policy and a way of life.

With the appreciation of the cultural roots, it would not be difficult to understand why China values peace so much in its foreign policy and why it has been such a strong advocate of peaceful settlement of international disputes. Of course we will use all our strength to safeguard our independence and sovereignty. But this is just to ensure that our people can live in peace. We believe that acts of aggression must be confronted with force, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter. Other international disputes should be resolved through peaceful means, such as dialogue, negotiations, mediation and mutual accommodation. We never believe that military might can really solve the global problems.

On China-U.S. Relations

It is exactly pursuant to this independent foreign policy of peace that we develop our relations with the United States. And nothing illustrates our foreign policy better than our handling of relations with the United States, because this relationship is the most important as well as the most sensitive, the most comprehensive as well as the most complex, and the most promising as well as the most challenging.

Thanks to the joint efforts from both sides over the past four decades or so, China-U.S. relationship has been in good shape, in spite of some ups and downs. President Xi Jinping and President Obama met twice this year. And they stay in close touch through correspondence and telephones. Literally, our leaders are just a phone call away from each other. Communications at the top are quite effective.

As guided by the agreement between the two Presidents, the two sides are working together to build a new model of relationship based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

This new model is called for by the new realities of the world in the 21st century. It is in conformity with the long-term interests of both countries and with the expectations of the international community. The fact that China and the United States are undertaking this together shows the determination of both to break the old cycle of major power rivalries and open up new prospects for win-win outcome.

Building this new model of relationship is certainly no easy job. There will be difficulties and problems ahead. But we have no alternatives, if we really don't want to have a lose-lose situation.

This common endeavor requires vision, wisdom, mutual trust, determination and perseverance from both sides in order to succeed. In this regard, I would like to suggest three key words.

First, respect. China and the U.S. differ from each other in many ways. We have a few more people than you do, and our country is a little bit older than the United States. We speak different languages, enjoy different culture, and eat different styles of food. We have very different natural endowments, are at different stages of economic development, and have different forms of government. Acquiring a comprehensive and objective knowledge of each other is not easy. Truly understanding the differences is even more difficult.

Because of these differences, we sometimes see things in a different light. Our approaches to some issues may not be exactly the same. It is important to keep in mind that these are the products of history and cannot be changed at will. To respect these differences is to show respect to history. To appreciate why there are the differences will lay the foundations for constructive and productive relations.

Second, cooperation. Despite all our differences, our common interests far outweigh them and are still growing. Economically, we are each other's second largest trading partners. Bilateral trade almost reached U.S.$500 billion last year, an increase of 200 times over the early days of our diplomatic relations. Besides, there is a high degree of complementarity between our two economies, which offers great potentials for mutually beneficial cooperation.

At the 5th Round of Strategic and Economic Dialogues held here in Washington D.C. last July, the two sides agreed to start substantive negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement (BIT) on the basis of Pre-Establishment National Treatment and a negative list. The BIT, once concluded, will unlock tremendous opportunities for American businesses. In addition, China has just set up a Pilot Free Trade Zone located in Shanghai. It is not just a business opportunity, but also a new signal of China's reform and opening-up.

We also share important international responsibilities. China and the US both are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Together with other members, we shoulder "primary responsibility for international peace and security".

Moreover, we are confronted with so many common challenges. Climate change is one of the biggest and most pressing challenges. Food security, energy security, disease prevention, alleviating poverty, combating transnational crimes, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, are all calling for our joint efforts.

Even our differences could be turned into rallying points. Economic complementarity is a good example. Cultural and educational exchanges are also areas where diversity means opportunities for mutual learning. In this regard, I would like to commend the contributions made by the the China-U.S. Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE). We look forward to the fourth CPE to be held in Washington, D.C. in November.

Third, responsibility. We are two great countries. Our relationship not only affects the future of our two peoples, but also has a major impact on the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole. The stakes are high. We have to manage the relationship with a strong sense of responsibility.

Responsibility means being prudent and cautious. Each should respect the other's major interests and concerns. Each should act cautiously on issues of concern to the other. Neither should allow itself to be taken advantage of by any third party and let other people's troubles become our problems.

Responsibility means acting positively and constructively. There are always difficulties and challenges. A positive approach will produce positive results. We should always make our best efforts to expand common interests and manage the differences in a constructive way.

Responsibility also means taking the long-term view. Immediate gains are often tempting, but too much focus on them is short-sighted. For countries like China and the US, we should have the capability to look ahead and shoulder the responsibility to work for the long-term interests.

These are a few of my observations on the new model of relationship. Now, the goal is set. The direction is clear. But the real test is still before us. I have full confidence in our two great peoples. I have full confidence in our common future. If this is a new long march, there is no turning back. Let's move forward together.

Thank you.


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