Anything is Possible When China and the United States Choose to Cooperate
– Remarks by Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng at Vision China
28 January 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good to see you all here. I would like to thank China Daily for providing us with this important opportunity for discussion. As the new year has begun, and a new U.S. administration was just sworn in, it is particularly timely and meaningful for us to gather here to explore the future of China-U.S. relations.
Last year was extremely challenging. The world was hit by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, and China-U.S. relations suffered the worst setback of the last forty years. Despite all these, as a Chinese proverb says, “Every new year brings new beginnings and possibilities.” I sincerely hope that the new year of 2021 will bring a new start to the world and to China-U.S. relations.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Kissinger’s historic visit to China as well as the famous “ping-pong diplomacy”. And as the story of “the tiny ball moved the big ball” goes, it took those great men before us extraordinary wisdom and courage to break the ice in China-U.S. relations. The challenges we face today call for the same vision and courage to break the ice again.
Today, I would like to pay tribute to the memory of Professor Ezra Vogel who passed away recently. Professor Vogel always approached the study of China, his lifelong passion, from a willingness to “respect, understand and communicate”. Even in his final days, he urged the Trump administration to adopt a rational policy toward China. He co-authored the open letter “China is not an enemy” which was signed by more than one hundred distinguished scholars. It is visionaries like Professor Vogel and many others who give us confidence and hope even in the low point of our relations.
President Joe Biden has visited China a total of four times, and has a better knowledge of China. He first visited China as a young Senator in 1979 and met with Mr. Deng Xiaoping. It was the same year the two countries normalized bilateral relations. I read his inauguration speech with great interest, and was especially impressed by his repeated appeal to the American people for unity over division. I believe we need exactly the same spirit for China-U.S. relations.
In my interview with NBC last year, I said the real enemy of the United States is COVID-19, not China. We are saddened by the loss of over 400,000 American lives to COVID-19, even more than the number of Americans lost in World War Two. I can not stop thinking about what could have been done differently. Had the Trump administration chosen science and cooperation over scapegoating and political games, how many lives could have been saved?
The Trump administration’s misguided China policy in the past four years has proven an utter failure in meeting the common challenge like COVID-19. We should learn an important lesson from such failure. China and the United States, as two major countries in the world, should treat each other as partners rather than adversaries, help rather than fight each other, and, as the Americans like to say, “lead with the power of example rather than the example of power”.
In his congratulatory message to then President-elect Joe Biden, President Xi Jinping stated that China and the United States should act “in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so as to focus on cooperation, manage differences, move the relationship forward in a sound and steady manner and, together with other countries and the international community, advance the noble cause of world peace and development.” President Xi’s vision is clear. The direction and path forward is also clear. Please allow me to explain this vision by quoting four “R” words.
The first R is “respect”. Mutual respect is the foundation for successful people-to-people and state-to-state interactions. It is not a difficult starting point. China has stated repeatedly that it has no intention to challenge or replace the United States. We don’t even think the relationship should be defined by “competition”, because we keep challenging ourselves, not the United States. The only thing that China asks of the United States is to respect the development path we have chosen, respect our legitimate interests, and respect our pursuit for a better life, and to quit its obsession with changing or splitting China. The world would be better off if our two countries would respect and help each other succeed.
The second R is “reversal”. The last four years’ journey of our relationship has seen too many “traps” of mistrust, “pitfalls” of division and “poison” of hatred. Enough is enough. We must act without further delay to reverse the wrong course. A lot of repair has to be done. I agree with American friends’ suggestion that both sides take small steps first to create conditions for improving the relationship. But we have to act now to bring China-U.S. relations back on track.
The third R is “renewal”. Yes, our two countries are different, but our shared interests and needs for cooperation far outweigh our differences. We believe COVID-19, economic recovery and climate change could be priority areas for cooperation for the near term. The Chinese people empathize with the American plight under COVID-19. We will continue to support the U.S. COVID response, increase experience-sharing on diagnostics and treatment, and work more closely with the United States on the research, production and distribution of vaccines. We will also enhance macroeconomic policy coordination with the United States to help global economic recovery. On climate change, an issue essential to the future of humanity, China is ready to renew cooperation with the United States. Our closer results-oriented cooperation on clean energy, low-carbon technologies, and environmental protection will go a long way toward protecting Mother Earth.
The fourth R is “responsibility”. As the Chinese proverb goes, “A bigger boat is meant to carry more weight.” Likewise, American people believe that “responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them.” As two major countries in the world, China and the United States should shoulder important responsibilities for world peace and development. Our choice and action today will have far-reaching impact on the future of our world. Our two countries enjoyed successful cooperation in the past: jointly fighting terrorism in 2001, tackling the global financial crisis in 2008, combating Ebola in 2014, and collaborating on the Paris Agreement in 2016. History has taught us that working together, we could get great things done to the benefit of the two countries and the world. In other words, anything is possible when China and the United States choose to cooperate.
I want to conclude with a quote from Shakespeare: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” China and the United States can work together to avoid the so-called Thucydides Trap. There is no predestined fate for the world. The future of China-U.S. relations, and the future of the world, depend on what vision we embrace and what choice we make.