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Issues on Building a New Model of China-US Major-Country Relationship:Dai Bingguo Discusses with Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on How to Avoid "Thucydides' Trap"


On March 19, 2016, former State Councilor Dai Bingguo attended the 2016 China Development Forum at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and conducted a dialogue with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of the US on avoiding the "Thucydides Trap". The main content of Dai Bingguo's speech reads as follows:

Dear friends, I am very glad today to have a dialogue with Dr. Kissinger here. Over the past years, we have carried out many in-depth conversations that are of great benefit. Dr. Kissinger's speech a moment ago also enlightened me a lot. The theme of this forum is development issues and we are talking about the issues of peace and conflict. However, I think it is a good arrangement for the forum to connect and take development issues and the issues of peace and conflict into consideration.

Today I would like to talk about some of my reflections, the core meaning of which is that only when China and the US step on the road of jointly building a new model of major-country relationship that features non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, can the "Thucydides' Trap" be avoided. There is no alternative way out.

Why must China and the US take the road of jointly building a new model of major-country relationship?

As we know, since human society develops all the way to today, the interdependence and interest convergence among countries have reached unprecedented range and depth, which makes all countries a community of common interests and shared destiny. Living in the same global village, no country, facing all kinds of common and complicated new problems, new threats, and new challenges, can deal with them on its own. Each "household" in the village, especially big ones like China and the US, must respect and cooperate with each other to deal with them together. China and the US should never quarrel with each other endlessly, nor should they fight with each other or even fight to death.

In today's world, weapons have developed to a surprisingly advanced level and in staggering stockpiles in terms of quantity. Both China and the US are nuclear powers with numerous conventional sophisticated weapons. Should China and the US enter into war, neither would emerge as the winner and the only result was mutual destruction and disasters to the whole world. Human beings have gone through enough wars and disasters to bear a new world war of greater damage and more tragedies. If either of the two countries launches a war, all human beings would be affected, making the country a criminal in history. As far as I am concerned, both China and the US are great countries, neither of us is willing to commit such a heinous crime and become a criminal through the ages.

In the 21st century, I think that two things are certain. First, no country can take the place of the US as the super-power, and the US will not decline. Second, no country can obstruct the rise of developing countries including China, Russia, and India. China's development can both benefit the Chinese people and contribute to the development of the world and the mankind. If China succeeds in its development, the US will be the biggest beneficiary. On the contrary, if China does not develop and falls into poverty, turmoil or chaos, that would be the most terrible situation to the US. President Barack Obama has also expressed similar views recently.

China is a country nourished in a 5000-year civilization and committed to peace and development. What we seek is not hegemony but a better life for the Chinese people and more peace in the world. So the US should not be afraid of but should embrace the peaceful development of China. Is there any reason why the US should not maximize its cooperation with China and not make the best use of the dividend brought to the US by China's development? If the US adopts the policy to restrain, suppress or even go to war with China, it will be totally wrong. That is what a fool will do and equals to making the biggest business loss. For the US, just as Professor Joseph Nye has said, that will actually lead to "an end to the US century". So, we have only one way to take, and that is to jointly build a new model of China-US major-country relationship.

Then, is this road feasible?

I believe it is.

In the world development history, the "Thucydides' Trap" is not an insurmountable iron-law, and many precedents that have successfully avoided conflicts do exist. There has been no world war in the past seventy years since the end of the World War II- a fact worth studying. Today, China and the US should not only, but are also capable and wise enough to jointly stride over the so-called "Trap" to create history and embark on a new path.

In the history of the China-US relations, ever since Dr. Kissinger and President Richard Nixon jointly opened the door of the China-US relations 45 years ago, the two countries' statesmen of older generations have factually laid the foundation for the two countries to build a new model of major-country relationship in modern times. Here I would like to quote some words by them.

President Nixon said, "We will start a peace-seeking trip not only for our generation, but also for the future generations of this common planet", "In spite of the differences, China and the US can find their common interests and their common framework to safeguard their respective security, development, and their different roads", and "What we must do is to find a way not to make China our enemy in war despite our differences". Premier Zhou Enlai said, "The differences between China and the US should not prevent the two countries from establishing a normal state relationship based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and should not cause wars." It is thus clear that statesmen of the two countries have set goals, direction and framework for the development of the China-US relations at that time, which is very remarkable.

Over the past decades, China and the US on the whole have been taking the road to a new model of major-country relationship designed by the leaders of older generations. Although there are twists and turns and even bumps on the road, the China-US relations have been moving forward. Today, the China-US relations have developed to such a high level that no one decades ago could ever imagine, and to an unprecedented depth and broadness. The high-level relationship between the two countries that are so different in social systems and development levels has created a world miracle, and fully demonstrates that the road is feasible.

During a historic meeting in 2013, President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama reached a strategic consensus on jointly building a new model of China-US major-country relationship, setting the fundamental goals, direction and framework for the further development of the China-US relations under the new situations of the 21st century. This is the first strategic consensus reached in human history between a rising power and a big power to avoid the "Thucydides' Trap". It is not only the inheritance to and development of elder statesmen's strategic thoughts of the two countries, but also the result of the deliberation of leaders and strategic circles of both sides, as well as the result of patient, frank and honest communication. The strategic consensus is a summary and distillation of experience and lessons in human history and an important decision which wins welcome from the two peoples and people in the rest of the world. I believe China and the US, as countries of honesty, will keep their promises and match words with deeds.

So, at present and in a long time to come, how should we promote the new model of China-US major-country relationship? My opinion is:

First, generations of statesmen of the two countries must insist on this goal, against all odds, and unswervingly push forward the construction of a new model of China-US major-country relationship. And we should be unwavering, should not back down and turn, and guide the people of the two countries to growing understanding and support to participate in the construction of a new model of China-US major-country relationship. More simply, I think that the development of the China-US relations should "have no ceiling but guarantee the lower limit." "Have no ceiling," that is, we should develop the bilateral cooperation as good as we can. Of course, there is one principle that we will be non-aligned. "Guarantee the lower limit" means that definitely there will be no conflicts between the two countries, and we cannot forge a cold war, let alone forge a hot war.

Second, the leaders and the diplomatic teams of the two countries need to maintain and strengthen timely, in-depth and frank strategic dialogues and communications, and enhance mutual trust, so as to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment. The US should properly view China's development and China's strategic intentions, do not regard what China does as a challenge to the US, and should properly develop cooperation with China in all aspects. China should clearly know that it is and still will be a developing country, concentrate on its own business, and do not challenge the superpower position of the US. It is important that both sides should treat each other as a friend and partner rather than an opponent and enemy.

Third, the construction of a new model of major-country relationship is unprecedented, so it is understandable that there are different opinions on it. Those who cannot understand can keep thinking on it, and both sides can also continue discussing it. However, for those few who want to deny and reverse the consensus reached by the two heads of state, I do not think the people of both sides could agree with them. They should know that constructing a new model of major-country relationship has a great strategic value for the US. I once told an American friend that China's efforts should be appreciated. Is there an emerging major country like China which has ever proposed to have no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect, and cooperation and win-win results with existing powers in the history? Has the US even done so to the UK in its rising? As a result, those who want to deny and reverse the consensus should change their position to support the road of the US in firmly constructing a new model of major-country relationship with China and they should not regret until they "lose China."

In conclusion, there will be many obstacles and difficulties in constructing a new model of major-country relationship between China and the US, but its future is bright.

In Dai Bingguo's response to questions, such as whether China has abandoned its low profile diplomatic policy, he said that the fundamental policy of China's diplomacy has not changed since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It keeps its consistency and inheritance with innovation and development advancing with the times. For a man, a nation, or a country, if it just lives off its predecessors' past gains, how can it develop? Diplomatic work in recent years has always focused on a fundamental strategic goal, that is, to create a good external environment for achieving a comprehensive well-off society, and create a good environment as well as a good foundation for the realization of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

In regard to whether we have discarded the idea of "hiding our capabilities and biding our time", we should firstly review how this concept came about. As far as I know, I remember that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, some people from the international community came to China and asked us to carry the banner to lead the world. Mr. Deng Xiaoping responded that rather than carrying the banner or seeking hegemony to lead the world, we should plug away at our own affairs. Then what do these affairs refer to? Precisely, we should develop our economy to promote our nation building. By and large, this is the origin of the concept of "hiding our capabilities and biding our time". It is not the so-called dirty trick.

Against the backdrop of the current situation, China adheres to peaceful development, non-alignment, non-expansion and non-hegemony; China insists on mutual respect, cooperation and win-win results; China sticks to giving priority to development. All of these represent the idea of hiding our capacities and biding our time. We have noticed that President Xi Jinping has visited countries across the five continents in recent years and wherever he goes, this idea is transmitted. And not only have we made this promise, but we have acted in this way.

Speaking of aggressiveness, I think that China is absolutely not the country to be aggressive. China has done what a sovereign state must do to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests. Meanwhile, as a responsible and major country, China has done many good and useful things for Asia and the world at large, such as promoting the foundation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), putting forward the Belt and Road Initiative and others. Are those good and useful things benefiting people? While working to facilitate the stability and prosperity of the world, we often think about how to lift those underprivileged friends in the third world out of poverty for development. Both the Chinese people and the people in other countries ought to lead a better-off life gradually.

China is committed to upholding peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. This region is highly valued by the whole world and develops at a good pace which we should not upset. China-US cooperation is of great significance to the Asia-Pacific region. As China shows respect for the traditional influence and practical interests of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, the US should also respect China's reasonable and increasing interests in the region. Both sides should strengthen cooperation, and also cooperate with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, so as to jointly safeguard peace in this region.

China is committed to working with the US to strengthen and improve international order and system. China will not be a "Rebel" by seeking to go its own way. I still remember that after the financial crisis in 2008, President Bush proposed to convene the G20 summit, for which the Chinese side expressed its support soon, thus giving birth to a new G20 summit mechanism. We are committed to working with the US to develop cooperation in various areas based on solidarity, harmony, mutual benefit and win-win spirit. It is a good example that during the financial crisis, China worked with the US to tide over the difficulties instead of standing by and mocking it. We are also committed to working with the US to have effective cooperation in international issues such as the North Korean nuclear issue, Iranian nuclear issue, climate change and network security. China is a very constructive cooperative partner rather than an aggressive, irresponsible country.

There is no doubt that China has to work hard to make achievements. China will neither take hegemony diplomacy nor seek hegemony once we grow strong. China will not take the humiliating diplomacy with a "kneeling on the ground" attitude to deal with foreign affairs just like the way we did after the Opium War. The era has gone forever. We treat other countries friendly whether they are large countries or small countries, and they should do the same to us so that all parties get along in harmony.

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