|Consul General Zhao Jian's Speech at Illinois State University International Seminar Series|
Honorable President Dietz,
Faculty Members and Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be here at the Illinois State University (ISU) and attend the International Seminar Series. As one of the first institutions of higher education established in the Midwest, ISU has produced a great number of talented graduates for the betterment of the society. For this, I wish to extend sincere congratulations to the university.
The theme of this Fall’s Seminar Series is “Understanding Contemporary China”. So today, I would like to share with you my perspectives on China and China-U.S. relations.
To understand contemporary China, one needs to first understand China’s history. China is a splendid ancient civilization with a history of five thousand years. Of all the major ancient civilizations in the world, it is the only one that has continued to this day uninterrupted, making important contributions to the development of human society. China once led the world in economic and social development for many centuries. However, in the one hundred years that followed the Opium War in 1840, owing to the aggression by Western powers and corruption of its feudal rulers, China was gradually reduced to a poor and weak semi-colonial and semi-feudal society subjected to repeated foreign bullying and humiliation. The Chinese people suffered tremendously as a result, and began to search high and low for the path to national independence and liberation. It was not until 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded that the trying history of the old China was put to an end and the Chinese nation were re-established as an equal member of the world community.
To understand contemporary China, one needs to understand the development realities of the New China. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In the past 70 years, the Chinese people, through their hard work, have transformed a backward agricultural country into the world’s second largest economy, supporting 22 percent of the world’s population with only 7 percent of the world’s arable land. The average life expectancy in China has risen from 35 to 77 years, and its per capita GDP jumped from US$27 to nearly US$10,000. Seventy years ago, four out of five Chinese were illiterate. Today, the completion rates of primary and junior high schools are close to 100 percent, and the gross enrollment ratio in tertiary education is over 45 percent. On top of that, 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty, and hundreds of millions of people joined the middle-income group. In a historically unprecedented giant leap, the Chinese people have gone from regaining dignity to becoming prosperous and strong.
While carrying out its own development, China has also made great contributions to global peace and development. It has not only become the second largest funding contributor to the U.N. regular budget, but also provided more peacekeepers to U.N. peacekeeping missions than any other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. We stand together with other countries in dealing with global challenges like terrorism, climate change, communicable diseases, environmental pollution and transnational crimes. And we have been the biggest contributor to global economic growth for more than a dozen years in a row.
The reason that we have been able to make these achievements is that under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese people have forged a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics well suited to China’s national conditions. For nearly a century now, the CPC has stood firm in representing and defending the interests of the Chinese people, winning their profound trust and support. Going forward, we will continue to follow the CPC’s leadership and pursue the people-centered philosophy of development, further deepen reform and open wider to the outside world, and march towards the goal of great national rejuvenation.
Despite our economic success, China remains the world’s largest developing country. Those who have traveled to China have surely seen its modern cities, yet the countryside and remote areas are still underdeveloped. To meet the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life while addressing the problem of unbalanced and inadequate development and enable the nearly 1.4 billion Chinese people to live a well-to-do life remains an arduous task for China, and we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
To understand contemporary China, one also needs to understand China’s cultural genes. The traditional Chinese culture is rich and profound. “He” or “peace and harmony” is the supreme value of the Chinese nation cherished throughout its history and lies at the very heart of the Chinese culture. As a nation, we have always loved peace and harmony. The ancient Chinese classic, the “Book of History”, for example, advocated amity among people and friendly exchanges among nations. Traditional Chinese values such as “peace is most precious”, “be kind to others”, “do not do unto others what you don’t want others do unto you” have been passed down generation after generation, laying their roots deep in the Chinese heart, and manifesting themselves in the behavior of the Chinese people. In the 15th century, the well-known Chinese navigator Zheng He led his fleet, the strongest of his time, on seven voyages to the Western seas and reached over 30 countries. They did not occupy a single inch of land, nor did they set out to establish any colonial territory. Rather, they brought them tea, silk and pottery from China, promoted trade and exchanges, and sowed the seed of friendship.
The path of development a nation chooses to follow is always inspired by their history and culture. Having suffered acutely from the misery of foreign humiliation, China is firmly committed to the independent foreign policy of peace and the path of peaceful development and pursues a win-win strategy of opening up. We believe that all countries, big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak, are all equal members of the international community. We also believe that different countries and civilizations should learn from one other through exchanges, for after all, when the beauty of each country is valued for what it is, the world will become a more beautiful place. As the ancient Chinese saying goes, “a belligerent country, however big it may be, is destined to perish.” China will never seek hegemony, not even when it grows stronger, because we do not have such cultural genes or ambition. China has no intention of engaging in power games, nor do we have the intention to squeeze out or replace any other nation. The goal of China’s development is to help its people live a better life, and we will accomplish this through our own effort and diligence. China is and will continue to be a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and a defender of the international order.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations. Over the past forty years, China-U.S. relations have weathered many twists and turns and achieved far greater progress than anyone could have ever imagined.
Forty years ago, bilateral trade was less than US$2.5 billion and two-way investment virtually nonexistent. In 2018, bilateral trade jumped to over US$630 billion, an increase of 252 times, and the cumulative amount of two-way investment surged to nearly US$240 billion, making us each other’s most important trade partner and investment destination.
Forty years ago, only several thousand visits were made between the two countries each year. Now, that number has increased to over 5 million. The two countries have established 50 friendly province-state and 227 friendly city relations. The number of Chinese students studying in the U.S. has reached 360,000 and that of American students in China 20,000.
For forty years, China and the U.S. have carried out fruitful exchanges and cooperation in various fields on bilateral, regional and global levels. From dealing with regional hot-spot issues to counter-terrorism and nonproliferation, from coping with international financial crises to environmental conservation, disease control and prevention and lunar exploration, the list of cooperation between us is growing longer and longer. Facts have proven that the development of China-U.S. relations has not only brought great benefits to the people of our two countries, but also contributed significantly to global peace, stability and prosperity.
Confucius said, one should have no more doubts at the age of forty. Yet at 40, China-U.S. relations are facing a number of difficulties and challenges. For some time now, there have been some jarring noises in the U.S. regarding U.S.-China relations. Some believe that the U.S. should launch the trade war against China because it has suffered losses in bilateral trade. Some want the U.S. to contain or engage in confrontation with China because they believe China wants to challenge the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region. Some others even push for complete disconnect of ties or a civilization clash with China. These people do not understand China, nor do they understand China-U.S. relations.
First, China-U.S. cooperation and exchanges are mutually beneficial in nature and are necessary for the two countries to develop and prosper together. In the past forty years, bilateral cooperation in trade, science and technology, culture, education and many other fields has made significant progress. The U.S. market has provided China with enormous and steady external demand, and U.S. investment in China played a positive role in driving China’s economic development. At the same time, mutually beneficial cooperation with China has helped drive robust growth of the U.S. economy, substantially cut the cost of living for U.S. families, and enabled American firms to take home huge profits. In 2017, of all the U.S. exports, 57 percent of soybeans, 25 percent of aircraft, 20 percent of automobiles, 14 percent of integrated circuits and 17 percent of cotton were sold to China. Now, almost all major U.S. companies have operations in China. In 2017, the sales revenue and profits of U.S.-funded companies in China exceeded US$700 billion and US$50 billion respectively. According to a report by the U.S.-China Business Council, in the ten years from 2009 to 2018, U.S. exports to China alone supported more than 1.1 million jobs in the U.S. And trade with China has saved average U.S. family US$850 a year.
The truth of China-U.S. trade relations is that we are mutually interdependent and cooperate closely in global industrial and supply chains. Our economies are heavily dependent on each other and thus, neither country can move forward without the other. The attempt to decouple the two countries or shut their doors on each other is just like building castles in the air. It is neither sensible nor realistic. According to U.S. statistics and surveys, despite the ongoing trade frictions, U.S. companies invested US$6.9 billion in China in the first half of 2019, an increase of 1.5 percent over the average level in the same period of the last two years. Ninety-seven percent of the U.S. companies surveyed reported profitable business in China, while 87 percent of U.S. companies in China indicated that they would stay in the country, and 74 percent of the members of AmCham China plan to expand investment in China. All this shows that they do not want to decouple from China, because they do not want to decouple from opportunities, nor from the future.
Second, China-U.S. cooperation and exchanges date back a long time and are consistent with the will of the people. Both China and the U.S. are great countries, and the Chinese and American people great people. We see each other as friends and desire to have better understanding of each other. Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, the “Empress of China” from the U.S. reached the shores of China to open trade. Eighty years ago, Americans crossed the vast ocean to aid China in resisting the aggression of Japanese fascists. Eighteen years ago, China provided strong support to the U.S. in its fight against terrorists. Ten years ago, China and the U.S. stood together in easing the international financial crisis. Today, an average of 17,000 people travel between the two countries every day, and every 17 minutes there is a flight taking off or landing between the two countries. Many young volunteers from the U.S. have made their way to China’s countryside to provide quality education, and a growing number of American elementary and middle school students are learning Chinese. All this has shown that the friendship between China and the U.S. has transcended time and space and continues to grow.
Third, China-U.S. cooperation and exchanges conform to the trends of the times and are the common expectation of the international community. China and the U.S. are both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and the world’s two largest economies. The development of China-U.S. relations has long transcended bilateral scope. Not only does it directly affect the well-being of our two nations, but also bears on world peace, stability and prosperity. Trade frictions between China and the U.S. have inflicted undesired losses on consumers and businesses from both sides, and have in turn hurt the world economy. When China and the U.S. lock horns, the world suffers. The OECD already warned that China-U.S. trade frictions could dent global growth by at least 0.7 percentage points. The WTO has downgraded its global trade growth forecast for this year from 3.7 percent to 1.2 percent.
We are living in a world where traditional and nontraditional security threats are interwoven and regional and global issues keep cropping up. Under such circumstances, no country can do well in isolation or fix all these issues on its own. Cooperation between China and the U.S. in addressing these challenges has become more important than ever. As President Xi Jinping has emphasized, “working together, China and the U.S. can accomplish many great things that are good for our two countries and good for the whole world”; “there are a thousand reasons for our two countries to grow the relationship, and none to wreck it”.
Of course, China and the United States are different in history, culture, social system, development path and national conditions. It is only normal for us to have disagreements and even frictions. But China is not U.S.’ enemy, and China-U.S. relationship is not a zero-sum game in which one’s gain is the other’s loss. Our success is each other’s opportunity, not a threat; and we can contribute to each other’s success with our respective development.
Looking back, the biggest lesson we can draw from our forty years of diplomatic relations is that we both stand to gain in cooperation and lose in confrontation. Our common interests far outweigh our differences. As such, cooperation is the only right choice for us to make. Mutual respect, seeking common ground while reserving differences, and win-win cooperation are the only right approach to bilateral relations.
At present, the China-U.S. relationship has come to a critical juncture. At a time like this, it is all the more important for our two countries to steer our relations in the right direction and in line with the established principles. It is also important for us to objectively view and properly handle problems facing our relations, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, expand cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, and work towards a relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability.
Recently, the 13th round of high-level economic and trade consultations between China and the U.S. produced positive outcomes, with both sides making some goodwill gestures. Now, the two sides are intensively negotiating the first phase of a trade deal. Both China and the U.S. are great nations with great wisdom. If we have dialogue as equals and pursue win-win cooperation, I am sure we can figure out a way to effectively manage and properly resolve our differences. As I have observed, the Midwestern states have all attached great importance to developing relations with China and hope to expand exchanges and cooperation with China. I see enormous potential for our cooperation.
China is a big responsible country. We are committed to engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries and working with the rest of the world to build a community with a shared future for mankind. By promoting the “Belt and Road” cooperation, hosting the China International Import Expo, reducing items on the negative list for foreign investment and improving the business environment, China is taking concrete actions to share with the world the opportunities brought by China’s development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many of you here today are young students. I would like to wrap up my speech by saying a few words to you. As the future of a country and a nation lies in the hands of the younger generation, so does the future of China-U.S. relations. I hope the young people in China and the U.S. will engage more with each other with open hearts and minds and a strong sense of historical responsibility to gain better understanding of each other and contribute more to the friendship between Chinese and American people and the sustained, sound and stable development of China-U.S. relations.