China's Relations with the World at a New Starting Point
——Speech by Assistant Foreign Minister Le Yucheng at the CIIS Forum
Beijing, 10 April 2012
President Qu Xing of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS),
It is a great pleasure to join you at the CIIS Forum. Today, I will talk about China's relations with the world and focus on how we see the world, China and China's diplomacy.
How to see the world?
Looking around the world, you will agree that it is undergoing unprecedented changes. The following two are the most prominent.
First, countries are woven together with growing links and interdependence. During the Cold War, the world was segmented by visible and invisible walls. In some cases, countries had no contacts even though they were in arm's reach. For example, while China and the Soviet Union shared the longest border in the world as each other's biggest neighbor, there was little interflow of personnel and the two-way trade was as small as US$50 million in the 1960s. Even the trade between the Soviet Union and the United States, the two superpowers, was below US$1 billion at one point. Now, things are different. Countries are woven into visible and invisible webs. It is said that the Internet connects four billion of the world's population and 50 billion electronic devices. Every year, 90 trillion emails are sent and 2 trillion electronic transactions are conducted online. Two people may be far apart, but when they log onto the Internet, they feel like next-door neighbors. Thanks to closer links and exchanges, countries have never seen their interests so entwined and their destinies so closely tied. Win-win cooperation is not a choice but the choice. In today's networked world, countries must abandon the so-called "seesaw mentality" which contends one's rise is another's fall and stop playing the "zero-sum" game which builds one's gain on other's loss. Instead, we should embrace the concept of peaceful development and win-win cooperation.
Second, emerging countries, notably the BRICS countries, are rising rapidly as a group. This adds a unique skyline to the international landscape of the 21st century. How should one approach the rise of emerging countries? Reaction to this new phenomenon is not uniform: some applaud it; others are more negative. There are even those who "cry wolf" and see emerging countries as monsters and blame them for one's own inherent difficulties and problems. In his recent remarks, a senior US military official even put the rise of emerging countries on the list of international security threats alongside terrorism, nuclear proliferation and natural disasters. Some even advocate for a larger West made up of the US, the EU and Russia to balance the East. Such views are misguided and unfair. One must recognize the important contribution of emerging countries to the world economy. They account for over 50% of world economic growth and hold the key to global recovery. While the world economy contracted by 0.5% in 2009 due to the international financial crisis, quite a few emerging countries maintained a growth of over 6%. China, India, Brazil and some others have become irreplaceable markets in the world whose potential is being unleashed. Recently, the BRICS Leaders Meeting was held in New Dehli. It produced key outcomes on such issues as improving global economic governance and advancing global development, and the establishment of a BRICS development bank was also explored. This is a significant attempt by BRICS countries to contribute to global development. In a nutshell, emerging countries are by no means trouble-makers, and their rise is not a challenge, still less a threat. On the contrary, it is an important contribution and a rare opportunity to the world. One should not let this historic opportunity slip through their fingers. Rather, one should make use of it and partner with emerging countries to promote development and stability in the world.
How to see China?
The fast growth of China is a key and catalyst of the changes in the world. I have three points to make on how to see today's China.
First, China is the world's second largest economy, not the second strongest country. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning of the US State Department, once said to me that the world has never seen a country that is at once the largest developing country and the second largest economy. This makes it harder to properly understand and define China. Recently, some people accuse China of being a "selective stakeholder" who switches between the role of "elephant" or "ant" as it sees fit, and they want China to be a "full stakeholder". I don't think this is a fair comment. After all, China is an emerging country, a growing country with unbalanced development. For all its remarkable progress and strengths in certain aspects, China still has many weak links. It is not unwilling - but unable - to take on more international responsibilities and fully play the role of a major country. Just like in sports: Though it won the most gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has a comfortable lead in diving and table tennis, it is almost impossible for China to win a gold medal in football. Not that we don't want it - it is the dream of Chinese football fans - it is simply beyond our ability. Therefore, what we are talking about is not a matter of choice, but a question of capability. And make no mistake: when it comes to safeguarding world peace, stability and development, China has always done its best and our track record is as good as anyone's. Our cooperation with the rest of the world in fighting piracy in waters off the coast of Somalia and tackling the financial crisis in recent years is a case in point.
Second, China's development is the result of hard and honest work, not trickery. Some people say China's fast growth comes at others' expense and China has moved others' "cheese". They say China has gamed the system. We cannot agree with this. True, China cannot develop in isolation from the world, and we never forget the long-standing support and help from the international community. But China's development is attributable, first and foremost, to the diligence and dedication of the Chinese people. It is reported that President Obama once asked Steve Jobs whether Apple could move its assembling lines back to the US. The answer from Jobs was "no", because no Americans are willing to work extra-time and as tirelessly as the Chinese. People in many European countries are entitled to 20 to 30 days of paid vacation each year, while employees in China only have 5 to 15 days. Many Chinese, including my colleagues and myself, often work beyond office hours and seldom have the luxury of a paid vacation. Premier Wen Jiabao said in an interview that during his 25 years of service in the central government, he has virtually had no holiday. We can say with pride that China's development mainly results from the hard work, ingenuity and sacrifice of the Chinese people, not taking advantage of others.
Third, nothing is more important for China than the wellbeing of the 1.3 billion people. China's sheer size and fast development has brought many expected and unexpected problems. We have heard from the outside world both kind reminders and gloating comments or even harsh criticisms. I want to emphasize that we Chinese understand far better than anyone else what our problems are and how to prioritize. According to the latest census, China's population has reached 1.35 billion. This is China's basic reality and what we need to bear in mind when making every decision. In Europe, a country of 14 million people is a big country. China has a population 100 times as large. Let me share with you an interesting statistic. Last fall, about 150,000 tourists flocked to the Fragrant Hill in Beijing every day to see the red maple leaves, but altogether there are only 70,000 trees, so it's one tree for two people. I'm afraid only in China can you find such things and it can be very difficult for foreigners to imagine this. Every year, China needs to create 25 million jobs, roughly five times the population of Denmark. As many as 6.8 million university graduates will enter the job market this year alone, and that's about the population of Switzerland. There are 83 million disabled people in China, the same as the population of Germany. The most important task for China is to make sure that the 1.3 billion people can lead a good life, and you can imagine how challenging this task is and what enormous pressure this puts on the government. I believe nothing is more important than this. Everything else must serve this central task.
How to see China's diplomacy?
Today is the 100th day of 2012. In the first 100 days, China's diplomacy accomplished a lot and became more active, vigorous and productive on all fronts. President Hu Jintao has successfully participated in the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul and the BRICS Leaders Meeting and visited Cambodia. This was a significant step of our summit diplomacy and neighborhood diplomacy this year. Prior to this, Premier Wen Jiabao, CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin and Vice President Xi Jinping visited a number of countries in Europe, Asia and Africa as well as the United States. Moreover, we received many foreign leaders and hosted the 14th China-EU Summit. These greatly boosted our traditional friendship, political trust and mutually beneficial cooperation with relevant countries. Moreover, China also took an active part in the mediation of regional hotspot issues. We put forward a six-point proposal for the political resolution of the Syrian crisis, sent special envoy to the region, and pushed the UN Security Council to reach important consensus on the Syrian issue. On the Iranian nuclear issue, we stayed in close contact and coordination with the other members of the P5+1. After the DPRK announced its intentions to launch a satellite, China kept in close contact with the relevant parties and did its best to prevent a reversal of the trend toward reduced tension on the Korean Peninsula. While holding its ground on matters of principle, China made active efforts to promote regional peace and stability, thus playing the role of a major country with a distinctly Chinese approach. In doing so, we have won extensive appreciation and support from the international community.
Now some people say that China has not lived up to the responsibilities and obligations of a big country. I do not agree. China has always been a responsible country and followed an independent foreign policy. We have always upheld justice and defended principles in international affairs and do not seek self-interests. Being responsible means China does not do things just to please certain countries. China never takes its cue from others or pays the bill without asking the price. Being responsible also means keeping to principles and saying "no" to things that are wrong. Recently some countries sought to replicate the Libya model and bring about regime change in Syria under the pretext of "the Responsibility to Protect". But their actions are a far cry from this concept. We must not forget the lesson from Libya. On the first day of the NATO-led multinational forces' "protection" mission in Libya last year, 64 civilians were killed and 150 were injured. The entire "protection" mission resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 civilians and the displacement of 900,000 people without bringing the country together or ending violence there―some regions in Libya even declared autonomy. Such "protection" has been likened to a "successful surgery that kills the patient". Obviously, it has failed completely. It is irresponsible "protection" and in truth, intervention under the name of "protection". Being responsible means saying "no" to such things. What we need is not just "the Responsibility to Protect", but also "responsible protection".
China's diplomacy not just upholds principles, but also abides by rules. Nowadays, I often hear some European countries and the United States complain that the existing international rules are unfair to them and that globalization is detrimental to their interests, even though they were the ones that set the rules and championed globalization and have been the biggest beneficiaries. Now, when they are no longer happy about these rules, they use their privilege to remake them to their own advantage. We think it is inappropriate to be utilitarian about rules, i.e. follow them when they work in one's favor and change or abandon them when they don't. Some countries, when unable to compete and win, resort to changing the rules rather than improving their own competitiveness. Take table tennis for example. China has some very good table tennis players, so in order to weaken China's advantage, the rules have been changed over and over again. Some people now want to do the same in the economic field and change investment, trade and environment rules. They used to preach to us the virtue of free trade, but now they engage in rampant protectionism, making China one of the biggest victims of protectionism. As you know, the rules of the Doha Round now run the risk of irrelevance just because some countries don't like them. Some try to reinvent the wheel and negotiate free trade arrangements that work in their favor. Now, if the international rules are not fair, it is the developing countries, including China, that feel it most acutely and have most reasons to complain, because we have lived with them for decades. We do not have the privilege enjoyed by the US dollar, nor can we appoint the head of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. China has to sell rare earths at a low price, but is barred from buying the weapons and high-tech products made using these minerals. And we end up only allowed to buy soybeans and airplanes. Some countries have made big money in the Chinese market, yet they refuse to recognize China as a market economy. You want unfair rules that need fixing? Take a look at these.
We believe that in an era when countries are increasingly interdependent, new ideas and approaches are required in handling international relations. In particular, big countries should not repeat the history of maximizing one's own interests, vying for sphere of influence, conducting arms race or competing viciously in a zero-sum game. Otherwise, we would be going against history and not being responsible to mankind. I appreciate the point recently made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we need to "find a new answer to the ancient question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet". I think we already have the answer: win-win cooperation, which should be the hallmark of the new pattern of interaction between major countries. The bottom line is that we need to respect each other's core interests and major concerns, view each other's strategic intentions in an objective and rational way, properly manage differences, and avoid strategic misjudgement, mutual irritation and vicious competition. Rising powers do not challenge established powers, and established powers should accommodate rising powers. The China-US relationship is a good example. It is one of the most important, dynamic and promising bilateral relationships in the world. In the 21st century, the only choice for China and the United States is to accommodate each other and carry out win-win cooperation. Like it or not, China and the United States are destined to form a community of shared interests, responsibilities and destinies. I believe our two countries have the responsibility, ability and wisdom to forge a new type of relationship marked by sound interaction and win-win cooperation. In doing so, we will set an example for other major countries and for international relations in general.