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A Conversation with Yang Jiechi

Speaker: Yang Jiechi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, People's Republic of China
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
January 6, 2011, New York
Council on Foreign Relations

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RICHARD N. HAASS:  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon.  Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.  And a happy New Year to one and all, and may it be a good year in every way for all of this -- all of us in this room and all those we hold dear.

I am -- we are very pleased today to have with us the foreign minister of China, Yang Jiechi, who I expect is well known to many people in this room, in part because he has spent more time in Washington than most of the people in this room.  He was there as a young diplomat.  He was back again as minister in the mid-90s.  And then most recently in the -- from 2001 to 2005 or so, he represented his country in this country.  And as you all know, he has now been foreign minister for several years, since 2007.

Today's meeting comes at an important moment.  Looking backwards, it's roughly four decades since this relationship was established in a fundamentally different geopolitical context -- one obviously at the heart of the -- of the Cold War.  And this relationship has evolved and I would say, in many ways, prospered over these four decades.  And it has survived the end of one geopolitical context and the emergence of another.  And that is no mean feat, and it's often overlooked when people notice the day-to-day difficulties in the relationship.  But I also believe it's important to notice the strength of the relationship, both its range and its depth.

And many people point out -- and I think with more than a little correctness -- that when the history of this century is written, the 21st century, this relationship, perhaps as much or more than any other bilateral relationship, will help determine the history of the 21st century.  So the stakes are enormous, but also so are the questions. 

An awful lot of people have pointed out that in history, the most difficult relations are often those between established powers and rising powers.  So the idea that U.S.-Chinese relations turn out to be productive and smooth is anything but automatic, even if it is in the interest of both countries that in fact it does turn out to be a productive and constructive relationship.  So the stakes are big and so are the questions. 

And again, we are extraordinarily fortunate in having the foreign minister here today.  It's no coincidence that he's here today.  The president of China will be making an official state visit to our country in -- what? -- in just under two weeks.  And so this is part of the preparation.  The minister's just had all sorts of meetings in Washington with the most senior people in our government.

The format for today is quite simple.  Foreign Minister Yang is going to talk for about 15 or so minutes.  He will then field a few questions from me and then he will field questions from you, our members. 

Let me just ask one request, that people turn off their electronics.  We will make an exception for pacemakers but for little else.  (Laughter.)

Secondly, let me remind people that this meeting is not -- and I repeat not -- for attribution.  We have a long tradition of that here at the council.  It encourages the sort of intimate and honest dialogue that we value and treasure so much.  So let us honor that.

So with that, Mr. Minister, let me again welcome you back to the Council on Foreign Relations, and the floor and the microphone is yours.  (Applause.) 

FOREIGN MINISTER YANG JIECHI:  Thank you, Dr. Richard Haass, for your very warm introduction.  Ambassador Zhang Yesui, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honor to be in your midst.  You know that this time I've come to be a foot soldier to pave the way for President Hu Jintao's visit to your great nation.  I'm sorry to say this time he wouldn't come to New York, but the whole country is always under the influence of New York.  (Soft laughter.)

I want to come here, and I think that's part of the preparation.  And I have a selfish reason as well, because I do miss New York and I do miss my friends here.  So thank you, Dr. Haass, for giving me the opportunity to see so many friends here, old and new; many of them I consider as my mentors in terms of how to conduct China-U.S. relationship.

The Council of -- on Foreign Relations is one of the most influential U.S. think tanks, well known throughout the world.  Led by Dr. Haass, the council has done a lot of productive work in conducting China studies and, promoting the mutual understanding and cooperation between our two countries.

I wish to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to you.  And I want to be very honest with you, that I still read the Foreign Affairs.  (Laughter.)  And I have warned Dr. Haass that -- be sure to keep on using the big print.  (Laughter.)  I'm getting old -- (laughter) -- and I don't read journals with tiniest print.  So if you make it even bigger, it would be more popular with me.  (Laughter.)  But there's a lot of meat in it, and I gain a lot from this kind of reading.

I'm visiting the United States at the kind invitation of Secretary Hillary Clinton.  The purpose of my visit is to lay the groundwork for President Hu Jintao's upcoming state visit to the United States at the invitation of President Barack Obama, and to exchange views with the U.S. side on the current China-U.S. relations and major regional and international issues of shared interest. 

During my stay in Washington, I had the high honor of meeting with President Obama, and had extensive and productive talks with Secretary Clinton, National Security Adviser Donilon, Secretary Geithner and Secretary Locke.  I also had a good exchange of views with people across a broad spectrum.

In two weeks' time, President Hu Jintao will come to the United States.  His visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of reopening the gate of the exchanges between our two countries, and the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.  This is an important arrangement made by the two sides, with a view to building on the past success and advancing the bilateral ties in the new era.  And it's bound to have a significant and profound impact.

During the visit, President Hu and President Obama will map out a blueprint together for China-U.S. cooperation for the new era.  They will also have extensive and in-depth discussions on major topics of mutual interest.  President Hu will make important remarks and meet with people from various walks of life in the United States.  He will comprehensively elaborate on the domestic and foreign policies of the Chinese government and on how to advance China-U.S. relations in the new era. He will also invite Americans, young people in particular -- old as well, and middle-aged -- (laughter) -- to get actively involved in the worthy cause of China-U.S. friendship.

At the moment, Chinese and American government agencies, nongovernmental institutions and businesses are all working with great enthusiasm in preparation for President Hu's visit.  They want to make the visit more fruitful by reaching new agreements in the field of practical cooperation.  The two sides are expected to sign a series of important cooperation documents and announce a host of new cooperation projects in economy and trade, energy, environmental protection, infrastructure development, science and technology and people-to-people exchanges.

I've looked at the list of possible agreements to be signed, and I've found there are many in the area of environmental protection and energy cooperation.  And that's a very good omen because we do have great potential for cooperation in terms of low-carbon technology and green technology.

The history of China-U.S. relations shows that the high-level exchanges between leaders of the two countries have time and again given guidance to and promoted the growth of the bilateral relationship.  This was true with President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 and Mr. Deng Xiaoping's visit to the United States in 1979.  And it was true with President Jiang Zemin's visits to the United States in 1997 and 2002 and President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States in 2006.

We have good reason to believe that with the efforts of both sides, President Hu's state visit this time will forcefully move forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship in the new era.  It will take our practical cooperation to a new high and enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.  And it will demonstrate the will of China and the United States to act together for world peace, stability and development.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Hu's upcoming visit to the United States will take place when the Obama administration concludes its second year in office.  We commend the good progress the China-U.S. relations have made over the past two years.  The China-U.S. relationship is an extremely important bilateral relationship in today's world.  We believe that though China-U.S. relationship has seen some difficulties in the past two years, it has made important overall progress, particularly in the following areas.

First, the exchanges and communication between the two countries at the high level and various other levels have never been closer.  China-U.S. relations achieved a smooth transition shortly after President Obama took office.  In the past 24 months, the two presidents have had seven successful meetings.  I had the good fortune to be present at all the seven meetings.  And I always came away with a deep impression of the sincerity of the leaders in their discussion about how to move forward the relationship, how to face the challenges and how to work for the common good of our two peoples and the people of the world.

President Obama paid a state visit to China, and now President Hu will come to the United States for a state visit.  Officials of the two countries at various levels have had frequent contacts in diverse forms.  The two sides have established the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues and the high-level consultation on people-to-people exchange.  This time in Washington, we discussed when to have the third round of SED, Strategic and Economic Dialogues.  I think it will happen sometime in mid-2011.

Setting up unique and effective -- I mean, these exchanges are setting up unique and effective platforms to enhance mutual trust and cooperation between China and the United States.

Second, the desire and resolve of the two countries to strengthen their cooperation have never been stronger.  In April 2009, President Hu and President Obama reached an important agreement when they met in London that the two sides should work together to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship for the 21st century.

This has charted the course for the growth of China-U.S. relations in the new era.  President Hu emphasizes on many occasions that a sound China-U.S. relationship is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and serves peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.

He stressed that the Chinese government places high importance on its relations with the United States it and will work to promote cooperation with the United States.  Likewise, President Obama attaches a great deal of importance to China-U.S. relations.  The U.S. government has stressed its commitment to stronger cooperation between the two countries.

Third, the Chinese and American interests have converged as never before.  Today, we have tackled the international financial crisis, pushed forward the reform of global economic governance and played an important role in spurring world economic recovery.

The China-U.S. business ties have been taken to a new level.  Two-way trade is expected to top $380 billion U.S. dollars in 2010.  China has been the fastest-growing major export market of the United States for nine consecutive years.

Investment by Chinese enterprises in the United States has rapidly increased.  By the end of November 2010, Chinese businesses had made over 4.4 billion U.S. dollars of non-financial direct investment in the United States.  All this has contributed to the economic recovery and the protection of jobs in the United States.  Our bilateral exchanges and cooperation in a wide range of areas, including energy and the environment, have been growing in breadth and depth. 

Fourth, the two peoples have never been engaged in China-U.S. relations in such a broad and in-depth manner. 

Today, around 120,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States and more than 20,000 American students are studying in China.  According to Chinese statistics, over 3 million tourists visit each others' countries every year and 110 plus passenger flights fly between the two countries every week.

China and the United States have forged 36 pairs of friendship, province-state and 161 sister-city relationships.

Such close interactions have built countless bridges of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.  

Fifth, the communication and coordination between China and the United States on major regional and international issues have never been better.  The two countries have maintained effective coordination on regional hotspot issues, such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the Iranian nuclear issue and South Asia.  And now during this visit of mine, we discussed these issues.  We also discussed the situation in Sudan, which figures prominently in the coming weeks.

Also, on global issues, including climate change, G-20, the U.N. reform and fighting transnational crimes, working together the two countries have played an important and positive role in upholding world peace and security and promoting global sustainable development. 

The China-U.S. cooperation has become more strategic in terms of substance and more important in terms of global impact. 

What is it that has brought China and the United States closer to each other in the course of cooperation in the past two years?  I believe that it is our growing common interests.  It is the growing sense of any important reality that China-U.S. relations in the 21st century should be anchored in joint efforts to seize common opportunities and address common challenges for the welfare of our two peoples and the people of the world. 

With regard to issues in China-U.S. relations, whatever the differences, there is a basic consensus between China and the United States:  namely, the China-U.S. relationship is far too important.  The two countries have far more common interests than disagreements and cooperation is always the defining feature of this relationship. 

It is imperative for us to put the differences and problems in the right perspective and address them properly.  It is imperative to bear in mind the larger picture of our cooperation and step up efforts to control and manage risks and disagreements.

We cannot afford to be at odds just because we are different.  We must make sure that this (giant ship ?) of China-U.S. relations will continue to sail along the right course. 

Of course, I need to point out that the norms governing international relations, the three Sino-U.S. joint communiques and the joint statement between our two governments should be strictly adhered to, as they constitute the basis for conducting our bilateral relations especially concerning such sensitive issues as those on sovereignty, security and territory integrity.

Ladies and gentlemen, as many of you are closely following the situation on the Korean Peninsula, I wish to take this opportunity to make a few observations on the topic.  China and the Korean Peninsula are connected by land and share a body of water in between.  Our policy objectives vis-a-vis the peninsula can be summed up in three words:  peace, stability and nuclear freedom.  To this end, we have been urging both the North and South to keep calm and exercise restraint and to engage in dialogue.  The facts have shows that pressure and force will not lead to a solution; only dialogue and consultation will offer the way out.  It is for this reason that we have been actively encouraging the parties concerned to explore a working solution through contacts and dialogue.

We believe that the six-party talks are the best platform and an effective framework to advance denuclearization and uphold stability on the peninsula and achieve enduring peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

We have called for emergency consultations with the heads of the delegation to the six-party talks as soon as possible.  We call for the resumption of the talks in due time on the basis of the emergency consultations.  We call on the parties concerned to follow through with the joint statement of September the 19th, 2005, in a comprehensive and balanced manner in order to keep the de-nuclearization process going. 

To maintain peace and stability and achieve de-nuclearization, the largest common interests and goals of China and the United States regarding the Korean Peninsula, in the past few years, China and the United States have had close communication and coordination and cooperation issues related to the peninsula.

We need to keep working together and cooperate with other relevant parties to uphold peace and stability and promote the denuclearization on the peninsula and to achieve long-term peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen, the experts and scholars present today and the businessmen and statesmen here are renowned for outstanding accomplishments in your respective fields of research.  You are also important opinion leaders.  Your research achievements, articles and works have a major impact on the public opinion in view of the media in the United States towards China.  We hope that the academia of our two countries will engage in more exchanges and cooperation, work together to introduce China and the United States to the two peoples in an objective, factual and a comprehensive way.  In this way, more and more people in our two countries will come to recognize the importance of our cooperation and the China-U.S. friendship will take a deeper root in the hearts and the minds of the people. 

China is the largest developing country, and the United States is the biggest developed one.  Our two countries have enormous common interests in a globalized world, and share the major responsibilities in upholding world peace and promoting common development.

We've set out on a path that no one else has ever travelled.  We need to have the courage and wisdom to join hands, and develop a new type of relationship between major countries in which we live in friendship and develop in parallel.  President Hu's visit to the United States at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century offers us a historic opportunity, and marks a new starting point of our -- (audio break) -- ready to work with the U.S. side to maintain high-level exchanges in our strategic mutual trust, promote wide-ranging practical cooperation, and step up communication and coordination on major international regional issues in the best interests of our two peoples, and the people the world over.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

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