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China-US relations ‘gain momentum’

Sun Shangwu, Wu Jiao and Zhang Yunbi
Updated: Sep 11,2015 10:12 AM     China Daily

State Councilor Yang Jiechi (right) reads a copy of China Daily as Sun Shangwu, China Daily’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief, describes the editing process of the newspaper after an interview in Beijing.[Photo by Xu Jingxing/ China Daily]

Editor’s note: In an interview with China Daily, State Councilor Yang Jiechi looks ahead to President Xi Jinping’s landmark state visit to the US this month and his attendance at a series of UN gatherings as the global body marks its 70th anniversary.

This will be the first state visit to the United States by President Xi Jinping since he took office. What will be the major issues topping his agenda?

Yang: First of all, let me say that the China-US relationship has, on the whole, gained sound momentum of growth, and the two presidents have stayed in frequent contact with each other, either through meetings or by correspondence. There has been a host of practical cooperation between the two sides on global issues, like climate change.

So against this background, President Xi Jinping will make his state visit to the United States later this month at the invitation of US President Barack Obama. I believe that this is a very important visit, because both countries are very important, China being the largest developing country and the United States being the largest developed one. Both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

There are a host of areas where China and the United States can, and should, cooperate with each other to promote peace, stability and development in various regions and in the world.

How is the upcoming visit by President Xi different or special from the previous one in Sunnylands, California, in 2013?

Yang: This is a state visit, so by every sense it’s very important and comprehensive, covering all major aspects of the China-US relationship. Following up on their very substantive and productive discussions at Sunnylands, California, and in Yingtai, Beijing, the two presidents will have in-depth discussions this time.

First of all, I believe that they will further chart the course of the China-US relationship, particularly the new model of major country relationship. And then there will also be a lot of discussion on practical cooperation. I believe that substantive results will come out of that. The two countries will also do a lot for the Asia-Pacific region and for the world as a whole.

By the way, I believe the president will reach out to a cross-section of the American society to get in touch with people from various walks of life and build up more bonds, friendships and understanding between the two countries.

So the visit itself is important for both countries, but I think for the rest of the world as well.

Do you think China and the United States will be able to reach consensus on how the major power relationship will be advanced in the correct direction?

Yang: At Sunnylands, you know, the two presidents agreed to build a new model of major country relationship between the two countries. In China and the United States, this goal has been reaffirmed by the two presidents thereafter.

And if we look back on what has been achieved, we can call it “a real early harvest”. Our trade has been on the way up. In 2014, two-way trade was worth about $550 billion, and the cumulative investment both ways amounts to about $120 billion. There are many, many visits crossing the Pacific.

Internationally, from Afghanistan to the Korean Peninsula, the two countries have worked in coordination with other countries for peace, stability and development. Particularly, I would like to point out that last year there was the joint announcement by China and the United States on addressing climate change.

Military ties between the two countries have been further built. There is a new visa arrangement between the two countries that actually facilitates visits by businesspeople and students.

All this shows that a new model of major country relationship between our two countries will work in the best interest of China and the United States, and for the rest of the world. What is important is really to adhere to the principle of avoiding conflict and confrontation, respecting each other’s core interests and major concerns, and pursuing win-win solutions.

This state visit is a good opportunity for the two countries to enhance their strategic trust, to deepen their cooperation and to properly manage the differences between them. And this will be in the best interest of the world as a whole.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.China and the US were allies during the war against Japanese aggression. Also, President Xi Jinping will address the General Assembly to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. Can you brief us on the highlights of his keynote speech?

Yang: First of all, I would like to say that you are absolutely right that China and the United States were allies during the Second World War against Japanese aggression, and we will never forget this friendship between the two countries. After the war, the United Nations was established. China, the United States and other countries have been working within the framework of the international system, and China itself has been contributing to the building of the international system. China is both a contributor and builder of this system.

We believe that the UN, being the most authoritative and representative intergovernmental organization, should play an even bigger role in maintaining world peace and promoting development. And that’s exactly the expectation of people around the world.

This year happens to be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN, and I would like to tell you that the president himself will go to a series of UN summits after his visit to the United States. His presence there will be a concrete example to show our commitment and support for the UN system.

The president, of course, will address the general debate of the United Nations and he will expound on China’s positions on the global political landscape and world order. And he will also attend the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Summit. China and other countries contributed to the drafting of the document. The president and other leaders will witness the adoption of the Post-2015Development Agenda.

China has also taken some initiatives on its own. The president and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, will co-host a summit on women’s empowerment and a roundtable discussion for South-South cooperation. The president, of course, will make some very important speeches to show our further cooperation with the rest of the world on these two major issues, and will also propose some very important action on our part as well.

So this will be a very important visit and the first appearance of President Xi Jinping at UN headquarters as the president of the People’s Republic of China.

Both countries want to promote their business relationship. Can you brief us on progress between the two countries on economic cooperation and trade?

Yang: First of all, please allow me to say a few words about the international economic landscape and China’s economy. I believe that the reality is the lack of demand in the world, and the performance of major economies and their policies vary from country to country. The recovery of the global economy after the outbreak of the financial crisis several years ago has not been as robust as people had expected.

Nevertheless, China has been doing its best. Let me say that we will continue the structural reform of our economy so as to promote economic activities in China to raise people’s living standards and continue with urbanization. We also encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in China. Like any other country, China has its own share of challenges and problems on the economic front.

But I must say that the fundamentals of China’s economy are fine and any objective observer in the world will notice that. Many people have expressed their confidence in the Chinese economy.

Of course, this economy has many facets, and one of them is foreign trade and investment from overseas. I must say the China-US economic relationship has been the bedrock of the progress that we have made. I still believe that the business community in the United States is very much interested in the Chinese economy, and they see a growing and expanding Chinese economy and there will be more and more opportunities for them-not only on the eastern shore, but also in the hinterland of China as well.

Of course, for our part, we will do our best to improve the investment and trade environment in China to further our efforts in improving IPR protection. I think there is a good chance for people to make more progress in business ties with China. Why? Because this is an innovative society.

Apart from traditional trade, we are talking a lot about trade not only in goods but in services as well. And we have seen a rise in Chinese investment in the United States. Jobs are created in the United States as well. This kind of interaction between the two business communities will serve the best interests of our two peoples.

On the macro side, they are the two largest economies in the world. They should coordinate and consult more with each other.

President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama reached an agreement on climate change on the sidelines of the APEC summit last year. How much of a priority is tackling climate change for both governments? In addition, the latest breakthrough in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear issue would not have been possible without effective cooperation between the US government and the Chinese authorities. Do you think this kind of positive cooperation could be expanded to other areas in exercising global governance?

Yang: You are quite right. The joint announcement to address climate change which happened last year was well received by the international community. I think that climate change issues will be part of the agenda for the president’s visit.

The important thing is for us to work together with the international community to make the Paris Conference later this year a success, and that is in the interests of the world. There is a lot that we can do together multilaterally or bilaterally. As a matter of fact, there has been a great deal of cooperation between the two countries in the clean energy field.

About the Iranian nuclear issue, I must say that the P5+1 discussion with Iran yielded good results. There is the joint comprehensive plan of actions with Iran, and of course China worked very hard with the United States and with other partners. We do hope that this agreement will have more good implications for the region as a whole.

All in all, China-US cooperation on the regional and global stage can be further promoted so that we should actually take a closer look at any kind of possibility of cooperation between the two countries, to leverage our resources and to do the utmost, because if China and the United States work even closer together, there is better chance for addressing some of the urgent issues globally and regionally.

Some are saying that disputes between China and the United States, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region, are forcing some regional countries to take sides. What’s your take on the actual dynamics in this bilateral relationship between Washington and Beijing?

Yang: Actually, it is in the Asia-Pacific area where Chinese and American interests are most closely intertwined. And it is in this area where China and the United States interact the most.

The two sides have had cooperation in many fields, some of which I’ve already mentioned. I believe no country needs to take sides between China and the United States because President Xi said that we are working really for the “community of interests”. So if there are friends of China who would like to be friends of the United States or the other way around, both countries should welcome that, and we should have more mutual friends.

I see the China-ASEAN relationship on the way up, not only economically but politically as well.

China and the United States should work together in more areas. For instance, we are helping Afghanistan to train more diplomats, and we are also helping Timor-Leste with food security. So in various areas, we should really expand our vision and to see what can be further done not only on a bilateral basis but on a trilateral basis also.

The issue of South China Sea and the issue of cybersecurity will be high on the agenda. And whenever we discuss the bilateral relationship, human rights are always an issue. What do you think the two sides should do in the specific areas to guarantee that our relationship moves in the right direction?

Yang: As you know, China has a consistent policy and stance on the South China Sea, but it is also a fact that there are certain disputes regarding the sovereignty over certain islands in the South China Sea. We have adhered to the principles that these issues should be handled through friendly dialogue. As a matter of fact, China has pursued a dual-track policy, which has been supported by the overwhelming majority of ASEAN countries. That is, the parties directly concerned should handle their territorial disputes through friendly consultation and negotiation, and China and ASEAN countries together should uphold peace and stability in the region.

Let me say that the disputes are those between China and some countries in the South China Sea region. The United States is not part of these disputes, and we do hope that the United States does not get involved in these disputes as it has promised. It is important for both countries to stay in close touch even if they have different perceptions and views. China has made its views on these issues very clear. China wants to have the situation handled and ultimately resolved in a peaceful manner.

As for cybersecurity, it is important for all countries. Let me say that China itself is a victim of hacking. We are firmly against hacking, and we believe that if there is a suspected case, wherever it happens, it should be investigated and handled on a solid, factual basis. China and the United States actually can make cybersecurity a point of cooperation between our two countries. We hope China, the United States and other countries could work together to work out the rules for cybersecurity in the international arena in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.

In regard to human rights, let me say that a lot of progress has been made in China. Of course, no country is perfect in their human rights record. China is ready to have more human rights dialogue with other countries, including the United States, on the basis of mutual respect.

Do you think we have a mechanism to manage the dispute in the South China Sea?

Yang: Yes, I think that the dual-track approach is the right approach. Because at the beginning of the century, China and ASEAN countries signed a Declaration of Conduct, with all parties in the Southeast Asia, which stipulates that the parties directly concerned should handle their differences through dialogue and negotiation. So the DOC has been implemented now to benefit all sides, because it not only encompasses territorial disputes but also a lot of other things, such as maritime cooperation, search and rescue, so on and so forth.

On the other hand, China has been very active in conjunction with ASEAN countries to pursue, on the basis of consensus, a COC, Code of Conduct, and I believe that the dialogue will be able to reach that agreement.

Let me say a few words on the freedom of navigation and overflights. As a big trading nation, China pays a lot of attention to freedom of navigation and overflights, and there’s no problems with regard to freedom of navigation and overflights.

Do you think the frequent military-to-military exchanges between the Chinese and American governments will send a positive message to the world about our bilateral relationship and are you confident that the two militaries can manage their risks in the Asia-Pacific region?

Yang: You have raised a very good point. I always believe that the military-to-military relationship constitutes a very important facet of the China-US relationship. The good thing is that recently we have seen continuous contacts and exchanges between the two militaries. They have had joint exercises and even in the nontraditional areas they are working together in disease control, anti-terrorism, anti-piracy and so on.

I do hope that there will be a continuous and increasing inter flow of exchanges and dialogue on activities between the two militaries. Because only by doing that can we deepen mutual trust and help to push forward our constructive role in the relationship.

Each day, people in the thousands are crossing the Pacific Ocean and promoting mutual understanding. Do you think that as both sides are talking increasingly about “trust deficits”, people-to-people exchanges could help compensate for this deficit? Are you confident that this will be a hallmark of the relationship?

Yang: I do believe so and “seeing is believing”.When you go to the United States, you go to New York, Washington or LA. It would be very meaningful to experience the hustle and bustle of the cities. When you experience city life in the United States, you see how people get on energetically with their life.

This by the way is not just along the US east and west coasts. I would encourage people to visit the states in between as well.

The same can be said of American visitors coming to China. They can see and feel the vibrancy of our cities. The good thing is now there are more and more grassroot contacts between our two peoples. For instance, there are about 200,000 Chinese students studying in the US. There are about 5,000 Americans on Chinese campuses, and they invariably not only have contacts with their classmates, but with their classmates’ brothers and sisters and parents and so on and so forth, through which they can gain a better and real understanding of the other country. I think it is important for a student to learn a foreign language to know a certain country better and to have at least a friend from that country.

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