Keynote Speech by Ambassador Cui Tiankai At Vision China Event


New York, September 17, 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to attend the Vision China event and the timing could not be better. This year marks 40 years of diplomatic relations between China and the US. And when we look back, we see tremendous achievements indeed. Our relations have brought huge benefits to the 1.7 billion Chinese and American people, and greatly advanced peace, stability and development across the globe. But as today's theme suggests we must also use the occasion to look beyond these years. What will the next 40 years look like? What role can China-US cooperation play in shaping our shared future?

As Confucius said, “At forty I had no more perplexities”. While we celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations, there are still some perplexities in China-US relations. The trade war is still taking tolls. There are still noises in America, clamoring for a new Cold War or for partial and even complete decoupling of the two countries. The China-US relationship has come to another historical crossroads and needed to decide its future direction. At such an important time as this, it is all the more necessary to address some simple yet fundamental questions.

First, what is the crux of the problems between China and the US? Some Americans blame a rising China who they claim will displace the US to be the world’s new hegemon. But I do not see the onus on the side of China. It is how America perceives China that should be held to account.

In a couple of weeks’ time, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China. Over the past 70 years and especially over the past 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has experienced tremendous transformation and made great strides forward.

To put it simply, this is a modernization drive of an ancient civilization with thousands of years of history. All the way from founding the People’s Republic in 1949, to launching reform and opening-up in 1978, to where we are right now, the Chinese people has stood up, grown rich and become strong. This is an unstoppable trend of history. This is what people call “the rise of China”. To be exact, this will lead to the “re-rise” or rejuvenation of China.

However, even with some dazzling GDP figures, China remains a developing country. Its per capita GDP is no more than 1/6 of that of America. Poverty still exists. The wealth gap between different regions and between different income groups is still yawning. The principal contradiction facing Chinese society has evolved into one between unbalanced and inadequate growth and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life. To address this contradiction, we still have some tough nuts to crack: to prevent and resolve systemic risks, eliminate poverty, prevent and control pollution and etc. In addition, our dependence on the external market and energy supply, as well as unfinished reform of the financial sector, makes us vulnerable to external shocks. And more importantly China has not yet achieved reunification. We know clearly what challenges we face.

Is a stronger China bound to seek hegemony? The answer is negative. China develops itself to deliver a better life to its people, not to scramble for global dominance. A more developed China would stay committed to peaceful development. This is not an act of expediency, but a voluntary choice made in light of our history, realities and development goals. This is something enshrined in the Constitutions of both the country and the Communist Party of China.

Our development, while benefiting ourselves, has also served other countries well, including the United States. We have initiated building a community with a shared future for mankind, which has been made the most important goal of China’s foreign policy. So I would like to ask our American friends: what is there to be concerned about?

In general, in spite of the great changes China has embraced, something remains constant: that is China’s original aspiration — to pursue happiness for the people, rejuvenation for the nation and harmony for the world. China will always keep to this aspiration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is fully understandable that there may be some temporary jitters about a fast-developing China. But it is extremely dangerous and irresponsible to base America’s policy on alarmism and label China as a strategic rival and even adversary. Please ask yourself: can a major adjustment of China policy, as touted by some people, really tip the scale in America’s favor?

On the Taiwan issue, the one-China principle forms the political foundation of China-US relations. It is extremely unwise for the US side to touch the red line time and again, as it will cause long-term damage to our relations and even get America embroiled in an unwanted conflict.

On trade, the trade war the US launched and repeatedly escalated was based on a wrong rationale in the very beginning, and its negative impact has now hit both countries and spilt over to the whole world. In this trade war, ordinary Americans bear the brunt of losses, and opposition has been voiced across the country. According to the latest report by JP Morgan Chase, the newly imposed tariffs could on average cost American households as much as 1,000 dollars every year.

As for the talk about “decoupling China and the US”, who could please enlighten me, given the inseparable links between our two countries, how is a “decoupling” even possible?

Decoupling our two countries in trade and industrial development goes against globalization and the tide of history. And considering China’s advantages in cost, market and supply chain and its growing edge in innovation, to decouple from China is to decouple from opportunities.

Scientific and technological decoupling would not secure America’s status as the technology leader, as science and technology can only develop and generate maximum effects through big data sharing, extensive application and collaboration.

And it is most unconstructive to decouple people-to-people exchanges. It is these exchanges that have sustained the China-US relationship and added a human touch to it.

Given all this, even if “decoupling” became true someday, I don’t think the US would stay safe and sound.

We are living in a world totally different from the Cold War era. To turn the clock back to the Cold War is to go against the history. If not China, there would be other countries on the rise. Would the US keep to the same playbook? It has been proved time and again that alarmism will only waste valuable resources and is nothing but meaningless fantasies. This is not to prevent the worst-case scenario, but to turn the scenario to a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Is it what the US truly wants? Is it what American interests are all about?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What is the path ahead for China-US relations? Some people lament that our relations cannot go back to the good old days. It’s true. The world is changing. We cannot and should not go back. Rather, we should open up a better future and create a new vision for the world.

We have learned from the past four decades that cooperation is the only right option for us. It is something we should always uphold. As we all see, our cooperation has great potential to tap. On some important issues, cooperation with China is essential. For example, at the request of the US side, China has scheduled Fentanyl-like substances as a class. In the first and second quarters of this year, we saw a sharp drop of over 90% in the number of trafficking cases of China-originating Fentanyl-like substances in the US.

That China and the US differ on some issues is nothing to wonder about. But disagreement has to be worked out by equal-footed talks. Differences and disagreements do not justify confrontation or conflict; instead, they should be seen as opportunities and potential for complementarity and cooperation.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that China-US relations have gone far beyond the bilateral scope, and bear on world stability and prosperity. As Dr. Henry Kissinger said, “I believe strongly that both countries have a duty to the peace of world and progress of the world, to find means of cooperation to solve the important problems they have before them.” In an interconnected world, various countries face a shared future. For us, the choice is between win-win and lose-lose. There is no zero-sum game to play. Global issues such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change and natural disasters and challenges and opportunities brought to us by new technologies such as artificial intelligence require international cooperation, especially China-US cooperation.

People with open minds and long-term perspective will realize that competition between major countries boils down to that of their own governance and development. Instead of getting single-minded about how to beat others, about who wins and who loses, we need to think about how to outperform ourselves and develop together with others. For China and the US, the right way ahead is to expand cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect and develop a relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability.

America has been the world’s major power for more than 100 years of its brief history, which is remarkable. This is by and large because America is open, innovative and confident. Today’s America is definitely not on the decline, and it will remain the world’s strongest country in a long time to come. But whether it can take an open and confident approach to China’s development will affect its future, and will determine the direction of China-US relations and very probably the future of the world.

When people ask where is the path ahead, we should not hesitate to tell them it starts right here. I sincerely hope that standing on the crossroads of China-US relations, we will make the right choice and leave a proud mark in the annals of history.

Thank you all very much.


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