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Address by Consul General Zhao Jian at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy
2021/05/25

(May 16, 2021)

The Honorable Sen. Adlai Stevenson and Mrs. Stevenson,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon!

Let me start by thanking Sen. Stevenson for kindly inviting me to today’s event and for his warm introductory remarks. I would also like to thank the Stevenson Center for its effort in organizing this event so that we can have the opportunity to meet each other online and discuss the past, present and future of China-U.S. relations.

Sen. Stevenson is an old friend of China. He was a member of the first U.S. congressional delegation that visited China in the early 1970s, not long after our two countries broke the ice in bilateral relations. In 1979, China and the U.S. formally established diplomatic ties. Ever since then, bilateral relations had kept moving forward against all odds and scored historical achievements, bringing enormous benefits to the two countries and peoples and contributing significantly to world peace, stability and prosperity. However, in the past few years, China-U.S. relations experienced the worst setbacks since 1979.

We are now at a critical juncture in this relationship. Our two presidents had an important phone conversation in February charting the course for the relationship, and we had the Anchorage dialogue in March which kicked off our face-to-face high-level talks in the COVID-19 era. But we have noted that the new U.S. administration has described China as its “most serious competitor”, and the U.S. continues to interfere in China’s internal affairs, including Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong-related matters. To be frank, the current U.S. government has not stepped out of the shadow of the previous administration in shaping its China policy, and has not found the right way to engage with China. Hence the questions: what kind of Sino-U.S. relationship we should build going forward, and how to make it sound and stable. With these questions in mind, I’d like to make the following points:

First, we need to have correct understanding of the importance of Sino-U.S. relations. Sen. Stevenson told us that China-U.S. relationship is more important now than ever. Indeed, as the world’s two largest economies and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and the United States, working together, can make great things happen for the good of the two countries and the world; when they are locked in disputes, however, it will definitely spell disasters for both sides and the larger world. Closer economic cooperation between China and the United States will create more development opportunities for the world. And the world will be in a better position to more effectively deal with global challenges like climate change, transmissible diseases, terrorism and transnational crimes if our two countries step up communication and coordination. Six years ago, China and the U.S., working jointly, helped conclude the Paris climate agreement. Last month, our two countries issued a Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis, and President Xi Jinping attended the Leaders Summit on Climate at the invitation of President Joe Biden. All this has demonstrated the joint commitment of our two countries to meeting global challenges together.

Second, we need to respect each other, seek common ground while shelving differences, and achieve peaceful coexistence. The Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 explicitly stated that “there are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. Yet, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence”.

China never exports its development model or seeks ideological confrontation. Nor does it ever seek to challenge or displace the United States. China is not the U.S. enemy, nor its security threat. The development of China does not mean the fall of the U.S. In the context of market economy, there are some competitive aspects to China-U.S. relations. But it should be a healthy competition for excellence and greater contribution to world development and prosperity, rather than a wrestling to beat each each.

The future of China-U.S. relations hinges on whether the United States can accept the peaceful rise of a major country that is different from it in social system, history and culture, and whether it can truly respect the Chinese people’s right to pursue development and a better life. We believe that so long as we respect each other’s history and cultural traditions, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, as well as each other’s choice of political system and development path, it is absolutely possible for our two countries to coexist in peace and prosper side by side.

Third, we need to strengthen dialogue and enhance cooperation to achieve more mutually beneficial results. While China’s development has benefited from its more than four decades of opening up and cooperation with other countries including the Unites States, it has provided the U.S. and other countries with an impetus for sustained growth and a huge market space. On balance, the trade and economic cooperation between China and the U.S. over the years are mutually beneficial. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral trade in goods grew by 8.3 percent last year to exceed US$580 billion. In the first quarter of this year, two-way trade surged by 61.3 percent year-on-year. At the China-U.S. Agriculture Roundtable which I attended this March, the participating government officials and business representatives from both sides agreed that the economic cooperation between the two sides including that in the agricultural sector are win-win and conducive to local economic and social development. Last month, eight railcars assembled by Chinese company CRRC Sifang America kicked off the in-service test run in Chicago. These are Chicago-made railcars that have created hundreds of jobs for local communities, and represent the return of railcar manufacturing to Chicago after more than five decades of absence. GM is another good example. Its sales in China, which is now its single largest market in the world, has exceeded that in the U.S. for 10 straight years. It is projected that China’s auto market will be larger than Europe and North America combined in 2035 with huge potential. On top of these, our educational and cultural exchanges as well as people-to-people contacts have further deepened mutual understanding and friendship and expanded common interests between our two peoples, contributing to the sound development of bilateral relations. All in all, exchanges and cooperation are an essential part of our relationship. There are more we can do together in curbing climate change, fighting pandemics and expanding trade and economic exchanges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To achieve mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation between China and the United States, we also need to take an objective and rational view of the following issues:

First on “democracy”. We Chinese are proud of our political system, just as the Americans are proud of your own. Some have labeled China as “authoritarian”, saying that there is no democracy in China. This is not true. In fact, Mr. Chen Duxiu, one of the founders of the Communist Party of China, loudly pushed for the promotion of democracy and science in China, or Messrs. democracy and science as he called them, as early as more than a century ago.

The CPC, since day one, has taken upon itself the mission of making the Chinese people the masters of the country and achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. What we have in China is socialist democracy, a whole-process democracy that embodies the will of the people, suits the country’s realities, and is endorsed by the people. For instance, when the Chinese government formulated the 14th Five-Year Plan, public opinions were solicited from all quarters and through various channels. More than 1 million suggestions were collected on the Internet alone. The surveys the Harvard University has conducted for several years running have shown that the CPC and the Chinese government have the support of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people with an approval rating of over 90%. We believe that democracy takes diverse forms, and there is no one-size-fits-all format. What matters most is whether the government’s polices embody the will and wish of the people and represent the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people. It is undemocratic to label China as “authoritarian” or “dictatorship” simply because its democracy takes a form different than that of the United States.

Second on “human rights”. As the largest developing country in the world, China takes a people-centered approach to human rights, giving priority to ensuring people’s most fundamental rights to subsistence and development while striving for all-round and coordinated development of their economic, social, cultural as well as civil and political rights. Over the past 70-plus years since the founding of the People’s Republic, we have raised China’s per capita GDP from less than US$30 to over US$10,000, lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty, and eliminated extreme poverty for the first time in China’s thousands years of history.

Places inhabited by ethnic minorities, such as Xinjiang and Tibet, have stood out as shining examples of China’s human rights progress. Between 1990 and 2016, Xinjiang was hit by thousands of terror attacks, killing many innocent people and causing heavy property losses. Thanks to the strong and proper policies adopted by the Chinese government, the region has been free from violent terrorist attacks for more than four years and regained the momentum of steady and sound development.

In recent time, some Western politicians and media outlets have been playing up the so called “genocide” in Xinjiang. This is pure fabrication. In the past more than 60 years, Xinjiang’s economy has expanded by over 200 times, with per capita GDP growing nearly by 40 times, and its average life expectancy has risen from 30 to 72 years. In the past 40 years, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has more than doubled from 5.55 million to over 12 million. During the eight years between 2010 and 2018, it grew by 25 per cent which was not only higher than the overall population growth in the region, but also more than 10 times higher than that of the Han people in Xinjiang during the same period of time. We could not but ask, is there any genocide like this in the world?

Third on “hegemony”. Some accused China of seeking hegemony and expansion. In fact, China is committed to a path of peaceful development that underlines peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries. China’s conventional wisdom, gained from its millennia of history, has it that “hegemony leads to failure” and “a strong country should not seek hegemony”. We rely on our own effort of hard work to achieve development and national rejuvenation rather than aggression or expansion. In the past more than 70 years, there is not a single instance of China provoking a war with another country or occupying any inch of foreign land. Instead, we advocate bridging differences through dialogue and defusing disputes through negotiation. We never export ideology or seek regime change in other countries. When unilateralism and protectionism ran rampant in the past few years, China stepped forward to resist the tendency without any hesitation and took concrete actions to uphold the U.N.-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres put it, China has become a backbone of multilateralism and an indispensable and trustworthy force for world peace and development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year marks the 50th anniversary of China-U.S. Ping-Pong diplomacy. At the reception to welcome the Chinese table tennis team on their return visit to the U.S., President Nixon said that “despite there being winners and losers in their table tennis tournament, the real winner “will be the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of the People’s Republic of China.” When conducting the Ping-Pong diplomacy 50 years ago, the Chinese side emphasized the spirit of “friendship first, competition second”. Maybe today, we need the same spirit to guide us into the future.

The future of Sino-U.S. relations, in the final analysis, hinges upon the people of the two countries, because without their support and contribution no progress could be made in bilateral relations. The Chinese Consulate General in Chicago will continue to work with people of all sectors in the Midwest to further enhance mutual understanding, exchanges and cooperation between our two sides to jointly create a brighter future for us all.

Thank you.

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