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Follow the Trend of History and Usher in a New Future of China-Japan-ROK Cooperation

—— Remarks at the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation 2018


Tokyo, 18 April 2018

Vice President Komura Masahiko,
Member of the ROK National Assembly Moon Hee-sang,
Secretary-General Lee Jong-heon,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Spring is the season for planning the whole year. In this luxuriant spring, I am glad to be back in Tokyo nearly 10 years after my last visit here. It's a pity that I missed the beautiful sakura blossoms, but I am very happy to see so many old friends and new faces and discuss with you the new vision for China-Japan-ROK cooperation and also to take a look at the new changes in the city Tokyo. Let me first warmly congratulate you on the successful opening of the Forum and express my sincere appreciation for the thoughtful preparations and arrangements of the China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of stand-alone China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Summit, and next year will be the 20th year of China-Japan-ROK cooperation. And the next China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Summit will be held soon. Hence, it is of high significance for this Forum to theme on "The Opening of a New Chapter for Trilateral Cooperation" and focus on the key word "new".

Allow me to share my observations and invite your opinions on three topics.

1. The global context of our trilateral cooperation

The three countries of ours, in the east, are important part of the world. As we discuss the future of our trilateral cooperation, it is indeed impossible for us to overlook the world we live in.

Looking around our world, we can easily see a lot of conflicts, problems, troubles, difficulties and challenges. It is hardly a peaceful, fair world. Here are some examples.

Although there is no big war, skirmishes, conflicts and all sorts of disputes keep cropping up, and turbulence remains unabated in some places. This has imposed much suffering on innocent civilians.

Uncertainties and surprises, rarely seen before, have emerged along the new developments and changes in the international landscape and within a number of countries. Many countries and people feel anxious and helpless.

Ever more new problems and challenges give growing difficulties and challenges to decision-makers in governing a political party or a country. Different social systems are also undergoing serious tests. Global governance becomes quite a thorny task.

Cold-war mentality, hegemonism and unilateralism still haunt international relations and are even making increasingly serious inroads into the existing international order and commonly practiced international rules, turning back the wheel of history.

Rapid scientific and technological progress, particularly new technologies like artificial intelligence, have both kindled people's new hope for a better life and created many concerns and unease. People are keen to explore ways to ensure that such progress is tamed at humankind's service, instead of threatening human survival and development.

Poverty, disease, environmental pollution, climate change, terrorism and populism still besiege many countries and regions. There is a long way to go for all people to have a peaceful, happy life.

This said, if we take a historical, macro perspective, we can see that the development of human society may have entered a new era.

First, economic globalization and application of information technology in an increasingly multi-polar world, especially the fast development of science and technology, are changing the ways of production, thinking patterns, lifestyles and behaviors of the human society at an exponential speed, taking it forward at a higher level.

Second, the world is seeing an unprecedented collective rise of developing countries and the common, mutually reinforcing development of developed countries, emerging countries and other developing countries at different levels. This is significantly influencing and changing the shape of the world.

Third, history has not ended. After some ups and downs and through reform, socialism has made a substantive leap forward, demonstrating new vitality and dynamism, and entering a new era of long-term peaceful coexistence with capitalism, featuring mutual learning and win-win cooperation.

Fourth, on this planet, the common homeland of all humanity, different regions and countries have extensive and in-depth interconnected interests at an unprecedented level and are interdependent in development. The range, scale and degree of the common global challenges facing humanity today are unprecedented. While their sense of alliance is weaker, people now have stronger desires to independently decide the future of their countries, coexist as equals, pursue win-win cooperation, and resolve disputes peacefully. There is a greater sense of community with shared interests, and it has become the consensus and goal of more and more people to build a community with shared interests and future for mankind.

Fifth, today's major-country relationship is characterized by both cooperation and competition between the United States, the sole super power, and China, Russia, India, the EU, Japan and other strong players. They are all leveraging their strengths, yet no one alone can dominate the world or act willfully. Moreover, as the huge nuclear stockpiles curb the urge for war, another world war would not break out easily. Mankind has managed to avoid a world war in the past more than 70 years. We must keep up our good work and jointly foster a new type of major-country relations to make sure that there would be no more world war in human lives.

Sixth, the scale and abundance of the wealth that mankind has created today, and the number of people enjoying such wealth and the extensity of the regions that they live in, are unimaginable several decades ago. It is no longer a world where only hundreds of millions of people had exclusive access to quality lives. Now billions of people are already living or about to live well-off lives with dignity. Alleviation and eradication of poverty has become an important goal for humanity.

To put it together: though confronted with many problems and challenges, humanity is full of hope; it has made enormous progress in the past, and will make even more in the future. The world, though not peaceful, will not plunge into severe chaos. The road is tortuous but there are brilliant prospects ahead. Those who insist on turning the clock back and mess up the world will be crushed by the wheel of history. It is thus imperative that our three countries clearly read and follow the trend of the world, as this will be instrumental to developing our countries and advancing the relations and cooperation among us.

2. China in China-Japan-ROK cooperation

Among the three countries, China, though the least developed, is the biggest in size and is growing fairly quickly. That's why its strategic intention is often misunderstood or misjudged. It is important to learn more about China in an objective and rational way and feel free from suspicion to go ahead to work with China. Such an approach will boost China-Japan-ROK cooperation in terms of speed, quality, width and depth. The question then is how to look at today's China. I will not elaborate on this topic, but I will only make the following points here.

First, China is on the whole still a developing country. It's true that through our own efforts and extensive international cooperation, we have made tremendous achievements since the birth of New China in 1949. It is fair to say that the Chinese people have created a miracle in human history and should be proud of themselves. China's development has benefited not only its own people, but also the world. However, we know only too well that China still lags behind developed countries in the level of development, especially its quality. For example, per capita GDP and the quality of life in China fall far behind that of Japan. We also face a demanding task in promoting people's well-rounded development. Though our coastal areas are more advanced now and the country does not look backward everywhere, in my eyes, China still shows many features of a developing country. China's transformation from standing up to getting rich, and then to becoming stronger has been and will be a long journey. Even if in 2049 we fulfill the goal set at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China will only be one among many strong countries. Development remains the top priority for a developing country like China. Going forward, China will see a new period of deepening reform and widening opening up for greater and better development, a period of a fresh start at a higher level, and also a period of new opportunities for Japan and the ROK to work with China more freely. My point is, we in China have firm goals, cool-headed thinking, and abundant patience. Those who do not believe that China is still a developing country, I invite you to come Guizhou Province, my hometown, to take a look.

Second, China is a country committed to the path of peaceful development. It is natural for people outside China to cast a wary eye on this rapidly growing mega country with a vast territory, ancient civilization and huge population that is rising from poverty. They may ask: what does China want to do? What is its strategic intention? Will it become another United States or a Soviet Union of the 21st century? As an old retiree with nearly 50 years of experience on different posts in the foreign service, I clearly know that the Chinese leadership has one primary, fundamental consensus with regard to their mission, that is, to do a good job at home so as to bring benefit to the Chinese people and all of humanity. China is not a selfish country that cares only about itself. On the other hand, we are also entitled to development and prosperity, just like any other country. Can the nearly 1.4 billion Chinese people sit at the table and wait for someone else to serve us a happy life? No! We must rely on ourselves. But our goal is not to replace anyone. Hegemony spells no happy ending for anyone. I know a 16-year-old high school student in Beijing. She read about the heartland theory of Halford Mackinder and the sea power theory of Alfred Thayer Mahan and got really confused and asked: why did they all want to control the world? The young people in China, just like the older generations, bear a deep aversion against hegemony. We will not become another United States or a new Soviet Union. We will be a New China with a new look on the path of peaceful development. One thing that distinguishes China's diplomacy from that of a traditional power is that we do not seek hegemony and oppose such attempts by others. This has been the firm conviction of generations of Chinese and will be the guiding principle of future generations. This principle was well demonstrated at last October's CPC National Congress. The program proposed at the congress is one for peaceful development and one that not only benefits ourselves but also others and the whole world. Yet, some people are trying to put the label of imperialism – a label of bullying, finger-pointing, deception plunder, aggression and invasion – on China. How ridiculous! How unfair! Let's listen to what President Xi Jinping said at the National People's Congress last month. He solemnly reiterated that China will never seek its own development at the expense of other countries' interests; China's development poses no threat to any country; China never seeks hegemony or expansion; and we will let China's reform and development benefit the whole of humanity. We Chinese mean what we say.

Third, China is a country that nobody outside can change or contain. Our Planet Earth, home to some 200 countries, should be a place of diversity, like a garden where flowers of all colors bloom. We respect other countries' choice of social system, ideology, values and development path, and will never seek to "sinicize" the world by exporting our own social system and development model. We don't interfere in others' internal affairs. We don't inhibit others' development; instead, we feel happy for them and always stand ready to offer a helping hand. We are eager to learn from others, but we will never allow others to impose their will on us and will resolutely reject any attempt aimed at containing China's development or changing our course. As many of you may know, ever since the founding of New China, there have always been attempts of blockade, containment, subversion and sabotage against us. But China has risen to the challenges and survived. We stood up, we developed, and we are now strong and prosperous. Ours is a nation that has overcome mountains of difficulties and accomplished the epic journey of the Long March, a big family of multiple ethnic groups bonded and inspired by a 5,000-year civilization, and a country of nearly 1.4 billion people led by a Party tempered by numerous trials and tribulations. How can we yield to the willful blockade, containment, subversion and sabotage of others?!

Meanwhile, we are aware that in today's world, there are some who are intensifying their efforts to undermine and contain China for selfish interests. And by doing so, they wish to curb the rise of emerging markets and developing countries as a whole and suppress and rein in some of their allies who are not that obedient. For us the Chinese people, we sincerely wish for peace, development and win-win cooperation, and it is never our desire to seek conflicts, confrontation or wars, cold and hot alike. But if anyone tries to impose what we don't desire on us, we will respond resolutely. And I am confident that the Chinese people will never be intimidated or stopped by whatever obstacles on our journey forward. We have every confidence in the future of China.

Fourth, China cherishes sincere friendship and goodwill toward Japan and the ROK and their people, and we value the tradition and growth of the long-term good neighborliness and mutually beneficial cooperation with the two countries. Why so? I think in addition to our respective strength, huge development potentials and the major responsibilities we have for regional and world peace and development, our trilateral cooperation is blessed with unique advantages. We enjoy geographical proximity, cultural closeness and affinity, and economic inter-connectivity. Despite some unpleasant episodes, our history has been defined mainly by communications, mutual learning and integration, thus giving birth to a prosperous and splendid Eastern civilization.

Realize it or not, today we three countries and our people are living in the same cultural circle and have already formed a closely-connected community of shared cultures, shared interests and shared future. Once a friend from the West said to me that this shared cultural circle is what has enabled the rapid development of East Asia and Northeast Asia. And I believe our countries and people must cherish, leverage and carry forward this Eastern civilization which is our shared creation, add more splendor to it in the 21st century and let it light the way ahead for our trilateral cooperation.

3. Set out on a new journey of trilateral cooperation

The population of China, Japan and the ROK together takes up 22% of world's total and 72% of that of East Asia. Our economic aggregate accounts for 24% of world's total and 91% of that of East Asia. A sound trilateral cooperation is vital not only to our own countries, but also to the peace, stability and development of East Asia, the entire Asia and beyond.

China-Japan-ROK cooperation, since its official inauguration nearly 20 years ago, has not been a smooth sail. But in general, friendly cooperation has remained the shared aspiration of our people. Our cooperation has achieved productive results, as we gradually establish and improve cooperation mechanisms, and kick off cooperation programs in multiple areas, including some brand-name projects. In particular, business cooperation and trade, educational and cultural programs and people-to-people exchanges have made laudable progress. And through concerted efforts with other countries in East Asia, we have successfully dealt with the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, which has greatly promoted stability and development of the region and lent strong impetus to the process of East Asia cooperation. What has happened is a vivid proof that "close neighbors are better than distant kinsmen", and cooperation brings strength to all.

There are now increasingly more positive interactions among China, Japan and the ROK, and new changes are unfolding on the Korean Peninsula. These signs show that China-Japan-ROK cooperation may enter a new period of rapid growth. At this new historical starting point, we must seize the opportunity and join hands to elevate our cooperation to a higher level. In this context, I wish to share with you some of my observations.

First, our new cooperation requires new strategic vision and trust. We must abandon and bury such out-dated thinking as Cold War mentality, zero-sum game and alliance and confrontation, embrace the idea of a community with a shared future, uphold the principles of non-conflict and non-confrontation, respect each other, and cooperate for win-win outcomes. We need to view each other's strategic intentions in an objective and sensible way, engage in candid and in-depth strategic communications, face history squarely and be forward-looking in order to enhance our strategic trust. We must stand high, look far and think deeply to understand and follow the trend toward the improvement and long-term development of China-Japan-ROK relations. We need to focus the attention of the government and people on our cooperation, make the pie of cooperation bigger and more appealing, and make sure that it brings more benefits to our people. We need to resolve disagreements and sensitive issues appropriately through peaceful dialogue and negotiations. More importantly, we must properly manage those that cannot be settled at the moment to avoid disruptions and ensure sustained and steady growth of our trilateral relations. When it comes to major issues concerning our national sovereignty, security and core development interests, we shall exercise prudence in order not to ruin the cooperation of our three countries.

Second, our new cooperation requires fresh synergy of our strategies and creation of new highlights. The Belt and Road Initiative, a well-received public good proposed by China, is a transparent initiative that harbors no hidden agenda with a core purpose to enhance connectivity of infrastructure and other areas and strengthen synergy among policies and strategies of relevant countries for common prosperity and development. Some of you may know that back in the old days, Japan's Nara and ROK's Gyeongju were both connected to the ancient Silk Road. Last year, Mr. Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, and Mr. Park Byeong-seug, member and former Deputy Speaker of the ROK National Assembly, attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. Japan has applauded the Belt and Road Initiative as a proposal of great potentials connecting the East and the West, and ROK President Moon Jae-in has expressed his desire to synergize ROK's "New Northern Policy" and "New Southern Policy" with China's Belt and Road Initiative. Japan and the ROK are welcome to participate in and benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative, and we hope this will become a new highlight in our trilateral cooperation. Of course, our three sides need to accelerate our trilateral FTA negotiations so that we can reach consensus at an early date. We also need to work more actively to advance negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and build an East Asian economic community with ASEAN countries. These efforts will pave the way for an FTA in the Asia-Pacific and make economic globalization a more open, inclusive and balanced process that is beneficial to all. Our three sides need to explore new industrial models and expand cooperation in big data, artificial intelligence and new economy to foster new growth areas for trilateral cooperation.

Third, our new cooperation requires greater popular support. More and more people are getting deeply involved in their countries' political development and having a direct impact on their governments' decision-making, including on diplomatic affairs. The friendship between our countries has its roots in our people, the future of our cooperation lies in our people, and popular support is the foundation and guarantee for our cooperation. Frankly speaking, there is still much work to do to enhance the popular support for our cooperation. To ensure robust growth of our cooperation, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our people, bring their hearts closer together, and increase the affinity and mutual understanding among our people. I think our political leaders and prominent figures from various sectors may play an exemplary role in this regard, which will go a long way in shoring up the popular support for our cooperation.

Fourth, our new cooperation requires a more peaceful and stable regional environment. My friends, two or three years ago, my granddaughter, then a first grader, said something that deserves deep contemplation of us adults. When she saw on TV the turbulence and displaced refugees in the Middle East, she said: grandpa, their country is a mess, but ours is not. I think it is a universal call from our children. They do not want to see war or turbulence. Peace and stability is the basic condition for the survival, development and cooperation of mankind. We sincerely hope to see an early restoration of peace and tranquility in the Middle East. At the same time, we will never allow anyone to destabilize in any way the region we live in. In particular, we will never allow any turbulence or war on the Korean Peninsula. We welcome all efforts by the international community that are conducive to peace and stability of our region. And more importantly, our three countries need to stay united and be committed to jointly upholding and promoting regional peace and stability, so that we can leave to our children and grandchildren a Northeast Asia that is peaceful, stable and secure, a region characterized by sustained cooperation and common prosperity and development.

Dear friends, China-Japan and China-ROK relations have both presented a good momentum of improvement and development. Our trilateral relations and cooperation bear on the future of our countries and the well-being of our people. We must seize the good momentum, overcome any possible disturbances and difficulties, uphold and develop the momentum without hesitation, and truly take our cooperation to a higher level. As Tao Te Ching, a Chinese classic by Lao Tzu, aptly puts it, "The Way begot one; and the one, two; then the two begot three; and three, all else." Stronger cooperation between China, Japan and the ROK will bring about huge potentials and unlimited possibilities. I hope the political and economic effects it produces will go far beyond the equation of 1+1+1=3; I hope the result will be 111, or even an indefinite sum.

Once again, I wish this forum a complete success.

One last word, I have come to know many friends from Japan and the ROK throughout my diplomatic career and we have worked together and devoted a lot to the improvement and development of China-Japan and China-ROK relations and to regional peace and stability. No matter where they are, I want to take this opportunity to pay my regards and tributes to all of them.

Thank you.

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