Transcript: Wang Yi at Asia Society

State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi
18 December 2020

Kevin Rudd
We bring you this broadcast to the Asia Society family, friends and supporters from around the world. We’re joined tonight by our centres in Washington, in Houston, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as our centers around the world in Tokyo, in Seoul, in Hong Kong, Manila, Sydney, Melbourne, of course in Mumbai and Zurich. And there are many others who are joining this gathering as well. This is a special event and we are honored to have with us the foreign minister of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yi, who is also of course, a respected member of the State Council of China. And we’re also joined by Ambassador Cui Tiankai, the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the United States of America. Let me make just a few remarks of welcome in Chinese. And then, let me outline our context for this evening’s presentation by the foreign minister.
(Greetings to you all. I’m Kevin Rudd. I’m the President of the Asia Society. It is a great honor for us today to have the opportunity to host Mr. Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. Asia Society has a long history of 65 years. We were founded in the 1950s during the Cold War. But our founder, John D. Rockefeller III, was a visionary. He believed that starting in the 1950s, the United States should maintain a good relationship with Asia, including a good relationship between the United States and China. Of course there  have been creep problems  in US-China relations recently. But as Asia Society, we intend to carry on our mission. So tonight, we are particularly interested in the content of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s  address .)
As someone who has been a student of US-China relations for the last 40 years, I’d like to say that it gives me no pleasure to point out that the current state of the US-China relationship is probably the worst that we’ve seen in nearly half a century. Despite all the twists and turns that we’ve seen over those decades, many positive things have been achieved over 50 years. But of course, new problems and new difficulties have arisen. 
When we look to the future. There will be a long debate about why the US-China relationship has ended up in the difficulty it currently faces. There will be a long debate about what China has done that is different, what America has done that is different, and how strategic circumstances more generally have changed. The key challenge however  is what will we now do for this extraordinary decade of the 2020s which lies ahead of us. 
Broadly speaking, I see several possible scenarios. One, we see China work within the framework of the international rules based order that we’ve been developing together since 1945. The second is that as China’s power grows, that the rest of the world, including the United States increasingly adjusts to an order, which is much more accommodating of Chinese interests and values, and where China’s leadership becomes more apparent. There’s a third scenario too, which is through international machinery, like the G20, and like other bodies through the United Nations, China and the United States work collaboratively with other countries to ensure that the order is stable, accommodates our interests and our values, and still preserves the fundamental principles of open societies, of open trade, and of course, of open systems. 
These I think are the scenarios which lie before us. Of course, some of our colleagues, including Graham Allison from Harvard University who also joins us in the audience this evening, have outlined a further scenario. And that is, in fact, we may be, according to Thucydides’s Trap, destined for war. I don’t believe that is so, but Graham’s analysis is a sobering one. He points to the structural tensions between established powers and rising powers, and whether in fact it creates a near inevitable dynamic which pushes them towards crisis, conflict, and war. That’s the sobering alternative to the other scenarios I just outlined. In fact, when I was working with Graham at Harvard University, five years or so ago before coming to the Asia Society, I remember working on a paper entitled “constructive realism,” 建设性的现实主义, a set of principles about how we could govern the future of the US-China relationship. With areas defined with red lines, with areas of strategic competition, and wth areas of strategic cooperation. It’s good to see some of those principles now alive in some of the thinking around the world at present as we embark upon this new period of the Biden administration. 
And finally, before turning to Minister Wang, as a former Prime Minister of Australia, it would be remiss  of me not to mention the impact of US-China relations on third countries around the world. US allies like Japan, and the Republic of Korea ,but also Australia itself, which now finds itself very much in the firing line of tensions in the bilateral relationship. And the question which these countries have is how do we navigate the shoals of all of this for the future, and particularly in the Australian case, how do we take the temperature down and navigate a creative and constructive way through current tensions. 
So I’m very pleased tonight in Australia, this morning  in America, and early evening in Beijing, (given we are working in multiple time zones. ) that we have this opportunity to hear from the man himself. Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China.
Foreign Minister Wang is a man of enormous diplomatic experience. And he has traveled the world extensively since becoming Chinese Foreign Minister. Prior to that as a professional Chinese diplomat, he has extensive experience in many countries, and particularly in Japan. So, Foreign Minister, you are a welcome guest here at the Asia Society. We welcome you to address our Asia Society family and community around the world. Over to you minister.
Wang Yi
Thank you very much, Mr. Kevin Rudd. 
You are a household name in China, a famous international advocate. And you have made important contribution to friendship and cooperation between China and Australia. I want to congratulate you on the fact that you are going to be the President of Asia Society. Actually, Asia Society is not unfamiliar to me. I received the former president, and many friends from Asia Society in Beijing. We engage in in-depth and open discussions on many occasions. I really feel that as long as we engage in face to face discussions, we can reach a lot of consensus on wide ranging issues, there are no unsurmountable difficulties or obstacles between us. Under your stewardship, we hope that Asia Society will continue to care for and support the growth of China-US relations, and we will be happy to engage friends of Asia Society for discussions and conversations to build deeper understanding. 
While the outgoing 2020 has witnessed the sudden onslaught of COVID-19, a pandemic that has upended the world in almost all aspects, countries have come to realize more than ever that global challenge requires enhanced international coordination and cooperation, and that major countries in particular, should lead by example.
However, as you have mentioned in your opening remarks, China-US relations have spiraled down to the lowest level since the establishment of diplomatic ties 41 years ago. This is not something that we would like to see, because clearly it is not an interest of the Chinese and American peoples, nor is it helpful when global efforts are needed to overcome the difficulties.
In retrospect, our 2020 might have witnessed the greatest damage to the international order and international relations. Among many others, we see power politics jeopardizing international stability. As arbitrator interfer other’s internal affairs, sanctions and unilateral sanctions have become the biggest destabilizing factor to regional and global security. We see protectionism jeopardizing international trade as backlash against globalization is gaining momentum. There are more barriers impeding trade and investment. Global industrial supply chains are on the cusp of breakdown. We see unilateralism jeopardizing international cooperation. The “go it alone approach” and walking away from international commitment have fractured and crippled the international system, and have dragged on international efforts by all countries against global challenges.
And we see McCarthyism resurging and jeopardizing normal international exchanges, and those with radical and entrenched political bias seek to label and stigmatize open and lawful political parties and institutions of other countries, and use ideology to disrupt or even sever normal international engagement, aiming at starting a new Cold War, and forming a new Iron Curtain.
Well these risks and challenges facing us are unprecedented, China and the United States are the two largest economies. We are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and we are the largest developing and developed country, respectively. We always believe that what we should do is to form the right perception about one another, act in line with the trend of the times, and heed the aspirations of the international community. We need to step up to our responsibilities as major countries. And at the same time, work together with other countries to overcome difficulties, meet challenges, and pursue development.
I know all of you follow China’s diplomacy closely and the style and future direction of which has been the subject of ongoing discussions. What I would like to underline is that China follows an independent foreign policy of peace and seeks to engage other countries for friendship and cooperation on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence. China is committed to bringing happiness to the Chinese people and contributing to progress of humanity and seeks to play a constructive role for world peace and development.
I would like to say it again that China has no intention to compete for hegemony. We never interfere in other’s internal affairs. We don’t export our system or model. Not in the least do we seek spheres of influence.  That’s what we did in the past. That’s what we are going to do in the future.
China’s diplomacy. What are the focus and priorities? First of all, China’s diplomacy is for the development of the nation. But as China remains a developing country, as President Xi Jinping has said, the Chinese people’s aspiration for better life is the goal that we endeavored toward with relentless efforts. All rural residents living under the current poverty line and all designated counties have shut off poverty this year. This means that extreme poverty is eliminated. For the first time in China’s history of several thousand years. We are proud of such achievement. And what we have achieved is a big contribution to poverty reduction efforts of all humanity. At the same time, we are sober minded about a long journey ahead. If we are to lock in the gains against poverty and bring prosperity to all the people. China’s diplomacy, which starts at home, naturally, should help promote the overall development of the country and the new development paradigm. So, the first priority of China’s diplomacy is to serve sustainable development of the nation. 
Second, China’s diplomacy is for win win outcome. It’s not part of the Chinese culture to seek our own development or put up interest above others, nor is it our philosophy to play the zero sum game, and be the winner that takes all. What we are committed to is a win win strategy of opening up, to ensure that all countries will come out as winners. The experience of China’s 40 plus years of “reform and opening up” is a strong testament to that. All the businesses and countries that have worked together with China have achieved shared development and prosperity. This is what we believe will make diplomacy more sustainable and more popular. We will further open up only broader, deeper, and with higher standards, and we will share opportunities and benefits with all countries for win win and greater development.
China’s diplomacy is for equity. Having experienced great humiliation in history, China truly understands how important equity is. We believe that countries, irrespective of their size and strength, are all equal members of the international community. The big and strong must not bully the small and weak. We believe that all countries enjoy equal rights to development. Developed countries have achieved development. We congratulate developed countries on that. And then developed countries need to help developing countries, increase the capacity for self-development. And developing countries should not be kept forever at the lower end of the industrial and value chains.
We believe that global affairs should be handled by all countries through consultation and that international rules should be made by all countries on an equal footing. There should be more democracy in international relations.
China state stays committed to developing a relationship based on coordination, cooperation, and stability with the United States under the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win win cooperation. And China has been working in good faith to that goal.
Regrettably, however, when we turn on TVs, read newspapers, and access new media, we would often see senior US officials, pointing fingers at China. And there is no evidence to support their accusations. They are merely irresponsible presumption of guilt and emotional lashing out. The fundamental reason behind all this is that some of US politicians have strategic miscalculations about China.
First, they choose to ignore the vast common interest and room for cooperation between the two countries and insist that China is a main threat. But they get this wrong at the very beginning. The ensuing government strategy that mobilizes all resources available to take on China is going in a wrong direction. China is not a threat to the United States, was not, is not ,and will not be a threat to the United States. 
Second, out of ideological bias, they seek to defame  the Communist Party of China. The CPC as the constitutionally recognized ruling party of China has a close bond and a shared future with the Chinese people. An attack on the CPC is an attack on the 1.4 billion Chinese people. So, it is not going to succeed. It is doomed to fail.
Third, they hope that maximum pressure will make China give in. China was once bullied by Western powers. But those days are long gone. Power politics will only get the Chinese people to be more resolved in their response.
And fourth, they attempt to build an international coalition against China. But this is the age of globalization. The interest of all countries are so intertwined that the overwhelming majority of them do not want to take sides, let alone being forced into confrontation with China. Facts have proved and will continue to prove that these attempts will lead nowhere and find no support, because they deny the fruitful cooperation between China and the United States over the past 40 plus years of diplomatic engagement, right off decades of efforts by the good Chinese and Americans to grow this relationship and dismiss the ardent hope of the international community for peaceful coexistence between China and the United States. This grave difficult situation in China-US relations is not something we want to see.
The two sides should learn from the ups and downs since the establishment of diplomatic relations. In particular, it is important that the United States policy toward China returned to objective and sensibility as early as possible. I wish to stress that China’s policy toward the United States is always stable and consistent. We always believe that with a deeply interwoven interest between the two countries, neither can do without the other, remodel the other, or replace the other. The bilateral relationship is no zero sum game. And the success of one does not have to entail the others failure.
While China-US cooperation can make great things happen for the two countries and the entire world,  China-US confrontation would definitely spell disaster for not only the two countries, but also humanity as a whole. The giant vessel of China-US relationship carries not only the wellbeing of the 1.7 billion Chinese Americans, but also the interests of the over 7 billion people in the world.
I believe we all agree that the time has come to decide the future course of this giant vessel. As President Xi Jinping wrote in his congratulatory message to President-Elect Joe Biden, it is hoped that the two sides will work together in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win win cooperation. Focus on cooperation, manage differences, move forward China-US relations in a sound and steady manner, and together with other countries and the international community, at most, the noble cause of world peace and development. This is how we see our relationship and what we expect of the relationship.
I hope that the US sign will join us on the basis of mutual respect, through dialogue and consultation, and by way of deepening our common interest and enhancing the support by the people to rebuild the strategic framework for the healthy and steady growth of China-US relations. This I believe is also what Ambassador Cui Tiankai shared with friends in Washington DC. In my video discussion last week with friends from the US-China Business Council, I talked about the importance for China and the United States to restart dialogue, return bilateral relations to the right track, and rebuild mutual trust. We hope that we will expand cooperation, manage differences through dialogue. We have noted the full priorities laid out by President-Elect Joe Biden. We believe that COVID response, economic recovery, and climate change, provide space for cooperation between our two countries. And the most pressing task at the moment is to jointly tackle the pandemic. We in China stand ready to continue to do what we can to support the years as needed.
I don’t know whether all of you aware that China has provided over 40 billion face masks to the United States. That is, on average, every American citizen gets over 100 facemasks made in China. The two countries could also strengthen cooperation, diagnostic and therapeutic experience, PP production, and vaccine research manufacturing distribution. We could also leverage our respective strengths to support COVID response in third countries and contribute to a global community of health for all.
Climate change is another important area of cooperation. China is steadfast in following the new development philosophy and building an ecological civilization. We are committed to achieve green, low carbon, and sustainable development. To this end, we will faithfully implement the Paris Agreement on climate change  to fulfill our responsibility for future generations, and our obligations to the international community. In the Climate Ambition Summit on December 12, President Xi Jinping announced China’s objectives and policy measures to scale up its nationally determined contributions. We have also noted that President-Elect Joe Biden had pledged to bring the us back to the Paris Agreement, after taking office. We welcome more active actions from the US side to this end. China and the US can come together again to facilitate international cooperation on climate change and make our due contributions. As the two largest economies, China and the United States need to strengthen macro economic dialogue. And China is ready to do so, to coordinate our policies and contribute to global growth and financial stability.
That said, we in China never shy away from our differences, our stance is that the two sides should manage constructively the prominent and important issues, based on a right perception of each other.
First, on ideological issues. We hope both sides will respect each other’s choice of system and development path. Four decades ago, leaders of China and the US made the handshake across the vast Pacific. It was fundamental to us because both countries recognize the importance of mutual respect and seeking common ground while putting aside differences. The goal of China-US engagement is not to mow the other in one’s own image, still less to defeat the other side, but to seek and expand convergent interests. Both Chinese and American systems are chosen by their people. And the systems are deeply rooted in their respective historical and cultural traditions. If the US China policy were to remodel or even subvert China, it would not be achievable, it would be Mission Impossible, and it leads nowhere. The right approach is to respect each other’s political system and development paths, continue to maintain peaceful coexistence and promote win win cooperation.
Second, on issues concerning national sovereignty and territorial integrity. All China’s internal affairs involve China’s core interests. Be it the UN Charter, or under the three binding China-US joined communiques, none of these issues shall be subject to foreign interference. Some politicians have fabricated too much false information about Xinjiang and Tibet, and the executive branch and Congress have on this basis, exercise long arm jurisdiction on Chinese businesses and individuals. Such moves seriously violate international law and defies international justice and conscience. As an independent, sovereign state, China, naturally, has to respond.
We shall not allow the law of the jungle to govern our world again. It’s same time for our foreign friends who truly care about China and wish to know more about Xinjiang, Tibet, and other parts of China. We are always ready to share with them the facts, what is truly happening in China. We welcome all of you joining this video link today from various countries to visit China, including the two autonomous regions, at your convenience. There, you will see firsthand a situation different from what you hear and see in the news. You will see a Xinjiang and Tibet that enjoys social progress ,ethnic harmony, freedom of religious belief, and a vibrant economy.
Third, on trade issues. We need to replace confrontation and sanctions with dialogue and consultation. China-US trade is mutually beneficial in nature. What drives trade is market demand, not imposed deals. There are no winners in trade wars. What has happened proves that pressuring others with tariffs would only boomerang, and we would only hurt oneself in the end. The two sides need to remove manmade barriers and instill positive expectations for the sound development of bilateral economic and trade cooperation.
Let me stress here that the Chinese market will continue to grow and is expected to become the largest and most vibrant in the world. This means China can and need to buy more products with active demand in the Chinese market from the United States, and it is just a matter of time before the trade imbalance is eased. As for the concern of structural issues, let me say that China is firmly advancing our reform according to our reform timeline. At present, we are firmly advancing supply side structural reform. In the meantime, China is implementing in good faith the common understanding in the phase one trade agreement in this respect. China has set a clear goal of building a new system of open economy of highest standards. And in China, we have taken domestic reform into more sophisticated fields of institutions and rules. China’s reform does not stop at policies. As time passes, the legitimate concerns expressed by various parties will be properly resolved, because first and foremost, resolving such concerns meets China’s needs of building a modern system.
We urge the US side to stop overstretching the notion of national security, stop the arbitrary suppression of Chinese companies. Just in recent days, the executive branch of the US administration has been expanding the list of sanctions against Chinese companies. This is unacceptable. We hope the US side will take a sober minded approach and provide an open, fair, and nondiscriminatory environment for Chinese businesses and investors.
Fourth, on maritime issues. We need to strive to turn frictions into cooperation. I believe this is totally achievable. Because for one thing, there has never been a problem with the freedom of navigation or overflight in the South China Sea. There has never been a single instance where normal navigation or overflight was impeded. China’s position is crystal clear: we will continue to work with other countries to maintain the freedom of navigation overflight under international law. 
China will speed up consultations with ASEAN countries, toward a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), which will regulate behaviors on the sea and underline the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. The conclusion of the COC will be compatible with universally recognized international laws, including the UNCLOS. It will not affect legitimate and law for maritime rights and interests of countries outside this region, because COC is not worked out by China alone, it will be an agreement by 11 countries working together.
The Chinese government is always open to candid communication dialogue on maritime issues with the US side. This door remains open. Chinese and US experts and scholars may also engage in in depth discussions on the applicability and technicality of UNCLOS and other international laws and rules to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment.
China and the United States in maintaining freedom of navigation, protecting the marine environment, and harnessing marine resources share converging interests. The two sides can well explore possibilities of cooperation in those areas, engage in positive interactions on maritime issues and shape positive interactions and add positive elements to China-US relations. 
Fifth, on people to people exchange. We need to remove restrictions as soon as possible. Friendship between our peoples provide the social foundation for China-US relations. People with vision in both countries should jointly reject attempts to disrupt people to people contact and create a cultural decoupling between the two countries.
We need to work together to encourage and support people from all sectors to increase exchanges and mutual understanding. To view all Chinese students, experts, and scholars in the US as spy suspects actually say it’s more about the mentality of the accusers and their lack of confidence. China has no intention to pick a fight with the United States, either in diplomacy, media, or any other field. It is important that people with vision in both countries jointly oppose stigmatizing people to people exchange and politicizing normal contact, and remove stumbling blocks to such contact and exchange.
Friends, as long as the two countries act with a sense of responsibility to history and humanity, bear in mind the fundamental interests of the two peoples and the whole world, and stay committed to principles of mutual respect, equality, seeking common ground while showing differences, and win win cooperation, the giant vessel of China-US relations will be able to stay on the right course, steer clear of hidden shoals and rocks, navigate to the counter currents and stormy waves, and achieve the goal of mutual benefit and all win for the world. 
I’ve made a quite lengthy speech. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for listening. I’m sure you have a lot of views to share with me. I would like to hear your views and also your questions. Thank you.
Kevin Rudd
Thank you very much. From the Foreign Minister, a very comprehensive speech outlining China’s view on the potential  future of the bilateral relationship with the United States under the new Biden administration. 
The Foreign Minister has made great reference to the great ship of US-China relations. I have this mental picture of this enormous ocean liner out on the seas. And sometimes the waves are like this. And sometimes, you look for where the lifeboats are. But still, this great ocean liner is afloat. That is the important thing. The second visual metaphor, which the Foreign Minister used, which I thought was particularly interesting, was it affects not just the future of the 1.7 billion passengers on board the ocean liner, but the flotilla of smaller ships, who are also in the convoy. And that is the rest of the world. The other 5 billion of us who have an interest in what you 1.7 billion actually do. So I think, Foreign Minister, it’s a very good analogy. 
It’s been a wide ranging speech, and we heard from the Foreign Minister, his description of China’s worldview, and its overall approach to diplomacy.  We also heard from the Minister, his particular view of the United States, both the challenges and the opportunities. I noted in particular what the Minister said about the stated priorities of the incoming Biden administration. He referred to the possibility of collaboration in three of the four priority areas which the incoming president has identified. 
Foreign Minister Wang spoke in particular about the potential for pandemic collaboration. I think, from the perspective of the rest of the world, it would be a wonderful thing. If the vaccine could be treated not as an issue of geopolitics, but could be treated as being a global common good, and that for all the people of the world, all 7 billion people in the world, that the United States and China could collaborate to ensure that we have global distribution of the vaccines from various countries which are now available, I would commend that as an approach. 
The Foreign Minister also spoke about President Biden’s priority on climate change. He’s right to identify that as a priority. Those of us who know the Vice President, and those around him know that this is not a ephemeral concern, it is a fundamental concern of the incoming administration. And so Xi Jinping’s statement recently about China achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and what Foreign Minister Wang just mentioned, in terms of China’s adjustment of its “nationally determined commitment” for the decade ahead  are important. And again, I think from the perspective of others around the world, the Europeans, the Japanese, and those who want a good outcome from the Paris Agreement  for the planet, we would commend both of you to put all your energy into this, because our kids and our grandkids depend on it. 
You also spoke candidly about the difficulties that you see emerging with the US-China relationship and how this needs to be tackled with candor and vigor.  You spoke about the radically different views on human rights in both Xinjiang and Tibet. This will require greater and more direct engagement between the two sides and all sides on that, because there are quite different views.
On the question of trade, all of us in the Asia Pacific region want to see more free trade, not more protectionism. We welcome China’s membership of RCEP. We would like to see America join RCEP.
I would also like to see both America and China join the TPP. The thing about trade is, if we have a good system for regulating the rules for the World Trade Organization, then it is good for all countries because free trade raises all boats. So, this could become an area of genuine collaboration rather than of continuing conflict with the United States. 
And finally, on the other areas that you mentioned in terms of maritime disputes and maritime confrontation as opposed to collaboration. Foreign Minister, as you know, as an experienced diplomat, and Ambassador Cui, this will be the hardest question to resolve, because the perception gap is so huge. But finding a way of stabilizing  what can sometimes be dangerous confrontation in the skies and on the seas of the South China Sea, and in and around Taiwan, is important for the restabilization of the relationship. 
Finally, Minister you commented on Chinese students around the world. It is a view of which I personally completely share. We should be opening the doors wider to each other’s  students not closing doors to them. Other matters of state concern can be attended to by the agencies of state responsible for those areas. But we have a huge mutual interest around the world for our students to be welcomed in all countries – Chinese students in the United States and around the world and foreign students in China. Because this creates the people to people building blocks for the long term future. And I hope we can turn that corner in the period ahead, so that we see no evidence of any racism or racial prejudice or McCarthyism in any form in any part of the world towards Chinese students, and frankly towards foreign students,  as they would experience sometimes, even in China. 
To conclude, Foreign Minister Wang thank you so much for this comprehensive presentation. You spoke eloquently about the need to rebuild a strategic framework for the US-China relationship. That framework needs early attention between both sides. If we’re going to have strategic competition between the United States and China, at least may be managed strategic competition within a common framework, which also provides opportunity for massive areas of cooperation at the same time. The alternative for not having such a framework you also referred to. You spoke before about the danger of a new iron curtain. Those were stark words. I don’t think that’s what China wants. I don’t believe that’s what people in the United States or the government of the United States wants either. But it require all of our effort our diplomacy and goodwill to make sure that that scenario is avoided. 
The truth is, as someone from a third country, my judgement it that both the United States and China will each have to change some of their policy positions at present if we are to share a common future. And I think the rest of the world will seek to work within such a framework as well. 
To conclude, also, Minister I enjoyed very much, your early comments about the fact that face to face dialogue, once COVID makes that possible,  enables us to solve most problems. And I hope  that is possible between United States and China. As soon as possible.  And once again, to put in a pitch for my own country Australia, face to face contact between the Chinese government at the Australian government as well. Thank you so much Minister for these comments and for your remarks to us today.