Respect History, Look to the Future and Firmly Safeguard and Stabilize China-US Relations
尊重歷史 面向未來 堅定不移維護和穩定中美關係
Yang Jiechi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee
The relations between China and the United States are among the most important bilateral relationships in the world. To safeguard and stabilize China-US relations concerns the welfare of the Chinese and American people and people in the world. It also bears on peace, stability and development in the world. President Xi Jinping pointed out, back in 2014, that past and current experiences show that China and the US stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. China and the US working together can make great things happen for the two countries and the world at large, while China and the US stuck in confrontation spells disaster for the two countries and beyond. It is important for both China and the US to stand high and look far, and work together to increase cooperation. Commitment to cooperation and non-confrontation between China and the US brings benefit to both countries and to all in the global community. In the exchange of congratulatory messages between the two Presidents on the 40th anniversary of China-US diplomatic ties, President Xi Jinping pointed out that over the past four decades, the bilateral relations have made historic progress despite twists and turns, delivering tremendous benefits to their peoples and contributing significantly to world peace, stability, and prosperity. History has made it abundantly clear that there is no better option than cooperation for both countries. The US side also recognized the enormous progress in US-China relations achieved over the decades.
The world is now going through major changes unseen in a century, and peace and development remain the overriding theme of the times. To uphold world peace and promote development for all is the shared mission and responsibility for China and the US. What it requires is for the two countries to view and handle their relationship in a proper manner and seek a way of peaceful co-existence despite differences. It was based on such a recognition that China and the US agreed to work together toward a new model of major-country relations featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. It was also based on this recognition that the two sides, after the current US Administration took office, agreed to jointly promote a China-US relationship based on coordination, cooperation and stability.
Nonetheless, for some time, some politicians in the US have kept making false statements and groundless remarks against China. They have viciously attacked the Communist Party of China (CPC) and China’s political system. They have deliberately distorted and even attempted to write off the history of China-US relations for the past nearly 50 years. What they are up to is to stitch up lies to blind the American people and fool international public opinion. For the international community, it is clear that the US Administration has chosen unilaterally to be provocative. The erroneous words and moves by the US Administration constituted interference in China’s internal affairs. They undermined China’s interests and seriously disrupted China-US relations, putting the relationship in a most complex and grave situation since the establishment of diplomatic ties. In response to the US move, the Chinese Government has expounded its position in a comprehensive manner and reacted resolutely to firmly defend China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and firmly safeguard and stabilize China-US relations.
A sound and stable China-US relationship affects the well-being of China, the US and the world at large, both now and in the future. It is what the people of both countries and the wider world expect to see. We must never allow a handful of self-serving US politicians to push the relationship into serious jeopardy.
I. The Chinese and American people have a long history of friendly exchanges. They fought shoulder to shoulder during the World Anti-Fascist War. In 1949, under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people gained liberation and founded the People’s Republic of China. Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly declared that the Chinese people had since stood up.
After the founding of New China, diplomatic relations were established between China and countries after countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, and mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, the wrong US policy not to recognize the People’s Republic of China kept the two countries long in mutual estrangement and hostility. Yet, the trend of progress of history and the advancement of the times could not be stopped. The Chinese and American people had always cherished friendly sentiments toward each other, and had never stopped making efforts to seek friendly exchanges and cooperation for mutual benefit. In 1970, in his meeting with the US journalist Edgar Snow, Chairman Mao Zedong said, "China and the US will establish diplomatic relations anyway. How can the two countries stay out of diplomatic ties for 100 years?" President Nixon observed in the same year that "it is certainly in our interest, and in the interest of peace and stability in Asia and the world, that we take what steps we can toward improved practical relations with Peking". Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai demonstrated strategic insight with their decision and personal commitment to launch the "ping-pong diplomacy", and Dr. Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to China in July 1971. The momentum was built toward normalization of China-US relations.
In February 1972, President Nixon paid an ice-breaking visit to China at the invitation of Premier Zhou Enlai, when they had a "handshake that crossed the vast Pacific Ocean". Addressing the welcoming banquet at the Great Hall of the People, President Nixon said that he had come for US interests. "You believe deeply in your system, and we believe just as deeply in our system. It is not our common beliefs that have brought us together here, but our common interests and our common hopes." He added, "There is no reason for us to be enemies." "This is the day for our two peoples to rise to the heights of greatness which can build a new and a better world." Chinese leaders emphasized that China and the US needed to be clear-minded about their differences and work hard to find common ground in order for the relationship to make a new start.
The Shanghai Communiqué, issued during President Nixon’s visit, acknowledged the common ground between the two sides while spelling out the differences as they stood. It pointed out clearly that "there are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. Yet, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, non-aggression against other states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence". The two sides stated that progress toward normalizing China-US relations served the interest of all countries. This historic document kept explicit account of the important common understanding that the two sides were ready to approach their relations on the principles of mutual respect, equality and seeking common ground while shelving differences. The Shanghai Communiqué fully reflected the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and conformed to the basic norms of international relations.
From Dr. Kissinger’s secret trip to President Nixon’s official visit, an important step was taken toward normalization of China-US relations. That was followed by the Carter Administration’s acceptance of the three principles proposed by China, namely the US must sever "diplomatic relations" and abrogate its "mutual defense treaty" with Taiwan and US forces must withdraw from Taiwan. On such basis, the US reached agreement with China on the proper handling of the Taiwan question. In the Joint Communiqué issued on 16 December 1978 on the establishment of diplomatic ties, the US recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. The US side went on to state that within that context, the people of the US would maintain cultural, commercial and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan. On 1 January 1979, China and the US entered into diplomatic relations.
From the ice-breaking visit to the normalization of relations and to the establishment of diplomatic ties, leaders and statesmen of the elder generation in China and the US, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping on the Chinese side, and Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Henry Kissinger on the American side, acted in the fundamental interests of the two peoples and made the political decision of historic significance with their exceptional strategic vision and political courage to rise above the differences in ideology and social systems. The Shanghai Communiqué, the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, and the 1982 Joint Communiqué that focused on addressing the question of US arms sales to Taiwan, something left over from history, identified the One China principle and established the principles of mutual respect, equality and seeking common ground while putting aside differences as the guiding principles in conducting China-US relations. They form the political foundation of China-US relations.
The fact of history is, China has always upheld the leadership of the CPC and steadfastly followed the path of socialism. From the outset of the normalization process, China-US relations have always been based on the common understanding that both sides recognize and respect each other’s different social system. Some US politicians claim that in engaging and entering into diplomatic relations with China, the original US purpose was to change China, and that US policy of engagement with China has become a total failure. They portray China as having tried over all these years to fool and deceive the US. Their allegations are fanfare for ideological confrontation and the Cold War mentality. They are nothing short of discredit to the enormous efforts and contributions made throughout past decades by people across the two societies to promote the development of China-US relations. Yet, fact is fact, and history cannot be tampered with. We need to take an attitude that is responsible to history and to the people. We need to stand up for what is right and set the record straight. We need to jointly safeguard the foundation of China-US relations and protect the friendship between the Chinese and American people. Any attempt otherwise will fail the test of history and people’s expectation.
II. After establishment of diplomatic ties, and thanks to concerted efforts on both sides, China-US relations have made historic progress despite ups and downs along the way. It has brought enormous benefits to the two peoples and contributed significantly to world peace, stability and prosperity. Cooperation between China and the US has always been conducted for mutual benefit. For the past 41 years, China and the US, and for that matter all countries in the world, have benefited from the development of China-US relations.
Since reform and opening-up started, the hardworking and talented Chinese people have, under the leadership of the CPC, achieved phenomenal progress. China’s rapid development over the decades, which benefited from interactions and cooperation with countries around the world, has in turn provided the US and other countries with sustained growth impetus and important opportunities. The volume of trade between China and the US has increased more than 200 times over the early days of diplomatic ties, and two-way investment has taken off from scratch to reach nearly US$240 billion. Made-in-China goods, nice and inexpensive, are best buys for American consumers. China’s vast market and sound business environment offer a source of tremendous profits for US firms.
The exchange of visits between the Chinese and American people jumped from several thousand to over five million per year. More than 400,000 Chinese students are studying in the US. Fifty pairs of sister provinces/states and 227 pairs of sister cities have been forged between the two sides. In the face of natural disasters from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, our two peoples felt for each other and lent each other a helping hand. When COVID-19 struck, Chinese and Americans from all walks of life rushed to each other’s assistance. Chinese provinces, cities, enterprises and institutions have donated masks, protective gowns and other medical supplies to affected populations, communities, cities and states in the US. They have also provided the US with large quantities of virus containment materials.
China and the US, together with the rest of the world, have been committed to upholding world peace, security and development. The two countries have had close communication and coordination on regional hot-spots such as the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan and the Middle East, and have worked with relevant countries to advance the political settlement of these issues. China and the US have had productive cooperation in counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, narcotics control, disease prevention and containment, poverty alleviation, peacekeeping, and the fight against the abuse and trafficking of fentanyl, among others. In 2001, when the US was hit by the September 11 terrorist attack, the Chinese Government and people immediately expressed their sympathies to the American Government and people, and the two countries strengthened coordination and cooperation on counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. In the meantime, China has called for rejecting double standards or even multiple standards in countering terrorism. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, China and the US worked with the rest of the world and made significant contributions to safeguarding international financial stability and kick-starting global recovery. The joint efforts of China, the US and other countries have led to the signing of the Paris Agreement, providing a strong impetus for global cooperation on climate change. The two countries have also carried out trilateral cooperation on food security in Timor-Leste, conducted joint training for Afghan diplomats and helped Africa to fight Ebola, setting a prime example of them working together to facilitate capacity-building in a third country.
That said, the past 41 years has not all been smooth sailing for China-US relations. There have been ups and downs and even major setbacks on the way. However, the two countries have always approached their relationship from a historical perspective and with the bigger picture in mind. They have managed differences and disagreements, properly handled sensitive issues, and safeguarded the momentum of steady growth in China-US relations. What has happened shows that no obstacle is insurmountable for China and the US. The key lies in a true commitment to mutual respect, equality and seeking common ground while shelving differences. It lies in the courage to take up the responsibility for history and the people.
The history of China-US relations over the past 41 years teaches a lot. First, China and the US must always approach and handle their relations by keeping in mind the common interests of the two countries and all countries in the world, as well as the future of all humanity. Such an approach will benefit not only the two countries but countries around the world. Second, China and the US must always keep to the right direction in the relationship, and bear firmly in mind that their common interests far outweigh their differences. Third, China and the US must always manage their differences in a constructive manner, abide by the principles and spirit of the three Joint Communiqués, and respect each other’s core interests and major concerns. Fourth, China and the US must always work to expand cooperation in a win-win spirit, and bring greater benefits to the two countries and the world at large. These valuable experiences have proved effective in the past. They remain effective now and will continue to be effective in the future.