China's Foreign Policy in a Fast Changing World: Mission and Responsibility

-- A Speech at the Lunch Meeting of the 8th World Peace Forum

By Le Yucheng
Beijing,8 July 2019

It gives me great pleasure to come back to the World Peace Forum and share my thoughts with so many friends, old and new. The theme this year for the Forum, namely, "Stabilizing the World order: Common Responsibilities, Joint Management, and Shared Benefits" reminded me of our discussions here last year on the international situation and China's foreign policy. The general feeling then was that international developments could be characterized by three words starting with "u": uncertain, unstable and unpredictable. Unfortunately, as we meet again one year later, the situation has remained in a flux. Dark clouds have not cleared away, and destabilizing factors and uncertainties continue to widen. Some hard choices are yet to be made about where our world will be headed.

The choices humankind makes about the future are usually based on its understanding of the past. A hundred years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, the Versailles System with the League of Nations as its pillar was established to create "durable peace". Yet we all know what happens to ideals when they confront the reality. Just 20 years later, the Second World War broke out. An important reason why the Versailles System failed to prevent the war was that countries concerned put their own interests above those of others, or even took a beggar-thy-neighbor approach to shift the crisis onto others, which made it next to impossible for the League of Nations and multilateral coordination to function properly. These lessons were learned the hard way.

Today, our world is once again confronted with crises and challenges brought by disorder and change. How should we respond? The failure of the Versailles System is not far behind us. We cannot let history repeat itself or witness a replay of the old script of unilateralism and protectionism, particularly when we now live in a globalized world where countries are increasingly interdependent and the entire humanity belongs in one community with a shared future. If countries allow the networks and the collaborative industrial chain that have been formed over the years to be turned into weapons against each other, or if more tariff wars, trade wars, or even financial and technology wars were to break out, our world would regress to the bad old ways with extremely dangerous consequences. We should never be blinded by myopia and make irreversible mistakes leading to catastrophes.

Fortunately, in the face of unprecedented challenges, there is a growing consensus among the international community for upholding multilateralism. The just concluded G20 Osaka Summit, for example, sent a resounding message of supporting multilateralism. How, then, should we effectively put multilateralism to action? I think first and foremost, there needs to be a sound institutional basis, without which order would be elusive. We need to uphold the international system with the United Nations at the core and governed by international law, and uphold the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its center. Although it is far from perfect and requires reform and improvement, yet the existing international order should not be overturned. If each country takes things into its own hands, the world would be plunged into utter chaos. Secondly, we need a spirit of cooperation. Global issues require global responses. No country can go it alone, however mighty it may be. We must work together like rowers in the same boat in order to brave the waves and reach the shores of success. Thirdly, we need to follow a win-win approach. The international community needs to shoulder shared responsibilities and seek mutual benefits as members of a big family would do. Zero-sum games and the winner-take-all approach would lead nowhere. Trying to maximize one's own interests and put them above those of others would only lead to conflict and war.

There exists extensive commonality between the principles of multilateralism and President Xi Jinping's call for building a community with a shared future for mankind. The values of multilateralism further accord well with the concept of global governance based on extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits and are instrumental to shaping a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. History has and will continue to prove that multilateralism points the right way forward and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind is an inexorable trend of our times.

China is a country that always matches its commitments with actions. It has always been a promoter of world peace, a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order. Over the past year, despite the difficulties and challenges China encountered, our commitment to enhancing mutually beneficial cooperation with all other countries has remained unchanged, so have our efforts to fulfill our responsibilities to world peace and common development. If anything, we have only done more and delivered greater results on both fronts.
We have firmly upheld multilateralism and free trade. Facing the growing backlash against globalization and the serious challenge of rising protectionism and unilateralism, President Xi Jinping sent out a clear and consistent message at the G20 Summit, the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, the first China International Import Expo and other occasions of China's firm commitment to safeguard multilateralism and free trade and steer the reform of the global governance system in a proactive manner. President Xi called for actively promoting economic globalization based on mutually beneficial cooperation and the building of an open world economy. The Chinese side has further worked with all other parties to implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change to pursue development and prosperity for all countries. 

We have advanced high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. Adhering to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, we have engaged in open, green and clean Belt and Road cooperation to deliver high-standard and sustainable outcomes beneficial to people's livelihood. According to the recent World Bank report on Belt and Road economics, once the transport corridors are fully completed, travel time along the corridors will shrink by 12 percent, trade will be up by 2.8 to 9.7 percent, people's real income will increase by 1.2 to 3.4 percent and 7.6 million people will be lifted out of extreme poverty in participating countries. This shows that Belt and Road cooperation is an effective contributor to the economic growth, higher living standards and infrastructure connectivity of countries and regions involved. It is changing the lives of many local people. For example, in a village called Chimkombero in northern Malawi, for nearly a century, people there had to walk with buckets on their heads for about a kilometer to a hand-dug shallow well to get drinking water. Then came Chinese workers who drilled a new borehole for them. The moment fresh water came gushing out of the borehole, the villagers were so excited that they said, "We no longer had to walk such a long distance on bare foot to get water." The 600 boreholes China has helped to drill in Malawi are now providing clean drinking water to 150,000 people in six local districts.

We have ushered in a new era for China-Russia relations. This year being the 70th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic ties, President Xi Jinping visited Russia in early June and met President Putin for nearly the 30th time in six years. President Xi's visit set a new characterization of China-Russia relations, achieved new progress and set new targets for bilateral cooperation. China and Russia vowed to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era, advance cooperation on major strategic projects, expand and deepen cooperation on technological innovation, and work to increase two-way trade to US$200 billion. The China-Russia relationship is at its best in history, with political mutual trust and strategic coordination reaching a new high.

We have worked with Europe to address global challenges. President Xi Jinping chose Europe as the destination of his first overseas trip this year. He met with leaders from France, Germany and the EU, where they reached extensive consensus on global governance, multilateralism and free trade. They agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation at the UN, fully leverage the constructive role of the G20 and other multilateral mechanisms to do more in seeking political settlement of international disputes, addressing climate change and promoting sustainable development. This sent out a strong signal at the leadership level of China and Europe working to enhance mutual trust, deepen cooperation and meet global challenges.

We have stepped up efforts to build a community with a shared future with neighboring countries. China has improved relations with both Japan and India. President Xi Jinping met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G20 Osaka Summit and reached a ten-point common understanding on further growing bilateral relations. Prime Minister Abe invited President Xi to pay a state visit to Japan in spring next year. President Xi and Prime Minister Modi will have an informal summit this year to chart the future course of China-India relations. The China-ASEAN strategic partnership is entering a mature phase. Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are being brought forward and those on a China-Japan-ROK free trade agreement are picking up pace. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is expanding its influence and becoming a good example of regional cooperation featuring unity, mutual trust, shared security, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. 

We have elevated South-South cooperation to a new height. In September last year, over 50 leaders from China and Africa gathered at the FOCAC Beijing Summit to discuss China-Africa cooperation and jointly celebrated "a golden week of China-Africa friendship". Since then, the follow-up actions have been actively implemented, producing early and high-quality results and making a visible difference for the livelihood of local communities. With such iron-clad facts, we have demonstrated to the world that the friendship between China and Africa remains unbreakable as ever. Supported by key South-South cooperation platforms, including the G77+China and BRICS, China's friendly relations and cooperation with developing countries in the Arab region, Latin America, the South Pacific and other regions are showing renewed momentum.

We have actively promoted the political settlement of hotspot issues. General Secretary and President Xi Jinping's recent state visit to the DPRK, the first visit to the country by China's top leader after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, has not only carried forward and cemented the traditional friendship between the two countries, but also played an important and unique role in advancing the political settlement of the Korean peninsula issue and maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula. On the Iranian nuclear issue, we stand firmly by international law and justice, and worked to uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and peace and stability in the Middle East. We have also actively facilitated peace talks and promoted the political settlement of such issues as northern Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria and that between Palestine and Israel.

Over the past year, China has stayed firmly committed to the common good of the world and working with other countries in concert to face up to changes and turbulence and strengthen the force for peace and growth. In particular, the summit diplomacy provided an irreplaceable strategic guidance in this process. This June alone, President Xi Jinping made unprecedented four overseas trips and attended more than 100 bilateral and multilateral events, making selfless efforts for the cause of world peace and global governance. With concrete actions, President Xi has stayed true to the original aspiration and goals of China's diplomacy and demonstrated China's sense of responsibility and mission as a major country.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China-US diplomatic relations. In the past four decades, this relationship has come a long way, outperforming even the wildest predictions back then. It has not only brought huge benefits to both countries, but also changed the world in profound ways. For us, the biggest revelation from this 40-year journey is this: China and the US both stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation; and cooperation and dialogue is always better than friction and confrontation. China-US relations is now going through the most complex and sensitive period since diplomatic relations were formalized four decades ago. How things play out will significantly impact the future of both countries and that of the world. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, there are 1,000 reasons to make China-US relations work, but not a single reason to derail them. Taking this opportunity, I would like to share a few observations.

First, the challenges currently facing the US cannot be blamed on China. After 9/11, the United States waged wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Those two wars have left the US deeply mired in the turmoils of the Middle East, costed it trillions of dollars, and sapped its strategic strength. The 2008 global financial crisis exposed the deep-seated imbalances in the US economy and society. Problems such as economic disparity, widening wealth gap and aging infrastructure all have their own reasons, but none were caused by China. China should not be made a scapegoat for them.

Second, threat of tariffs and decoupling is not the solution. China has been engaging in the trade negotiations with the US in good faith to manage our differences. However, the negotiations should be on an equal footing, and their outcomes should be balanced, mutually beneficial, and demonstrate mutual respect and accommodation of each other's legitimate concerns. When its sovereignty and dignity are at stake, China must safeguard its core interests. There is no way that China will accept a humiliating agreement that will hold back its development and national rejuvenation. The Chinese side is determined to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests. Nothing, be it maximum pressure or threat of another Cold War, will intimidate us.

Third, taking China as an enemy is not a rational approach. Behind the China-US trade friction is the underlying issue of strategic perception. China and the US, as the top two economies in the world with closely intertwined interests and broad areas of cooperation, should work together for common progress and development. Viewing China as an enemy cannot be more unwise and would only lead to disastrous consequences. "Making America great again" and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation are two historic processes that may well go hand in hand. It is entirely possible for China and the US to help each other succeed and achieve "greatness" together . 

Recently, President Xi and President Trump had a successful meeting in Osaka, during which they exchanged views on the fundamental issues bearing on China-US relations and set out the future course for this relationship. The two sides agreed to continue pursuing a China-US relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability and announced the resumption of trade consultations. These important understandings sent a positive message and are welcomed and supported by the international community. Now the task for both sides is to follow through on the principled consensus reached by the two presidents and keep to the right direction of China-US relations. The two sides need to strengthen strategic communication on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit to deepen mutual understanding, expand cooperation in various areas, and properly manage differences. This will go a long way to promoting steady progress of China-US relationship to the benefit of both countries and the wider world. 

This year, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. It has been seven decades of relentless progress despite trials and tribulations. Led by the Communist Party of China, we the Chinese people have made great achievements through self reliance and hard work, making China the second largest economy in the world, cultivating a middle income population of over 400 million, and lifting some 800 million people out of poverty. By the end of 2020, we will have taken all rural residents living below the current poverty line out of poverty, putting an end to absolute poverty in our country and creating a miracle in the history of development and poverty reduction. We are also on course to attain the first centenary goal by 2020, i.e. completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects. The Chinese people are getting closer and closer to realizing their aspirations for a better life. 

China's development means opportunities and contributions to the world, rather than a challenge or threat. As President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed on many occasions, China's door will not be closed, but will only open wider to the world. At the G20 Osaka Summit, President Xi Jinping announced further steps of opening up. I am confident that the world will come to see that China, instead of building walls or decoupling with other countries, will continue to bring down its tariff rates, shorten the negative lists, expand market access and make market rules more transparent. A more open China that actively interacts with the rest of the world will bring more opportunities, and make greater contributions to the world. 

As a Chinese poem goes, "As we stand high and look far, the unstoppable tide of history, like in a mighty river, surges ever forward." As we are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century, the journey ahead might be beset with dangerous rapids and storms, but China will stay its course and move forward by riding the waves and braving the storms. We will serve as an even stronger stabilizing force in this fast changing world, injecting greater positive energy for the evolution of the international order and a more powerful impetus for global development. 

Le Yucheng is China’s Vice Foreign Minister.