The presidents of the two biggest economies in the world are likely to meet virtually before the end of the year. For a world rocked by frictions between the two sides and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, this prospect certainly provides signs of hope. How does China interpret the recent developments that concern it? Will the summit, if convened, be a turning point in bilateral ties? What's holding China back while it prepares to lean in towards the dialogue table? Liu Xin spoke to His Excellency Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng for his takes on arguably the most important relationship in the world.
Liu Xin: The United States' 20-year long war in Afghanistan ended up in its hasty withdrawal. What can people learn from this?
Le Yucheng: What happened in Afghanistan is an epitome of the once-in-a-century changes across the world. The most important thing to be learned is that the time has passed when superpower can just throw its weight around. The United States is a giant, mighty and formidable, while Afghanistan is a war-torn country, poor and weak. But everyone sees clearly how the United States left Afghanistan in a panic after paying a high price. As we said before, gone are the days when one country, armed with only a couple of cannons, could occupy another. The Afghan War once again shows that hegemony cannot be maintained however advanced the weapons you have.
Liu Xin: What is the biggest lesson from the United States policy on Afghanistan? Do you think that the United States will learn a lesson?
Le Yucheng: There is an ancient Chinese saying — power may win for the time being, but justice prevails in the long run. The keyword here is justice — without justice, no one can succeed no matter how strong they are.
Despite its repeated mistakes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the United States seems to have yet learned a lesson. The U.S. declared that it ended the Afghan War to focus on major country competition, meaning with China. But in 20 years from now, the U.S. would realize that it has probably targeted a wrong enemy and made an even bigger mistake. As an online comment points out, with an expired ticket from the Cold War era, one cannot board the high-speed train of the 21st century.
Liu Xin: During the National Day holidays, Director Yang Jiechi had a meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Zurich, Switzerland. Before this, the presidents of the two countries had two phone calls, and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Special Envoy John Kerry visited China. Are these frequent high-level contacts signs of improvement in bilateral relations?
Le Yucheng: Since the beginning of the year, President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden had two phone calls. They reached important common understandings, pointing the way forward for China-U.S. relations. Diplomatic representatives from the two sides held talks in Anchorage, Tianjin, and last week in Zurich. Vice Premier Liu He had a virtual meeting with USTR Katherine Tai a few days ago. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited China twice this year.
I list all these high-level talks we had with the U.S. to indicate that China is always ready to act with goodwill, sincerity, and work to improve China-U.S. relations, and that our door to dialogue is open at any time. In addition, the two sides have recently established a joint working group to discuss how to address some specific issues in bilateral relations. And they do have made some progress. This proves that dialogue and cooperation are indispensable, and that confrontation and conflict will lead us nowhere.
We take seriously U.S. recent positive statements on China-U.S. relations. We hope to see them translated into policies and actions, and more concrete steps being taken so that the two sides can work together to answer what we call the "Question of the Century": whether we can handle our relations well. This is a question the two sides must provide a good answer.
Liu Xin: Will there be a presidential summit in the near future? If so, will it be a turning point?
Le Yucheng: In his phone call with President Joe Biden, President Xi Jinping agreed to maintain frequent contact through multiple means. To follow through on what was agreed by the two presidents, the representatives of the two countries discussed in Zurich a meeting between the two presidents through video link by the end of the year. In the meantime, the two sides need to work together to build a good atmosphere and create positive conditions for the two presidents to meet.
Liu Xin: Early Oct., US Trade Representative Katherine Tai gave a preview of the Biden Administration's trade policy on China. She said decoupling is not realistic, and that re-coupling a distinct possibility. But she also mentioned working with like-minded economies to counter China's "non-market practices". What are your comments?
Le Yucheng: We have noted that there are some positive elements in the USTR's remarks. At the same time, we firmly reject her groundless accusations. I want to stress that China and the United States are an indivisible community with shared interests. Despite U.S. attempts of decoupling and disruption of the supply chain and the impact of COVID-19, two-way trade still expanded by 8.8 percent in 2020. And in the first eight months this year, bilateral trade rose to 470 billion dollars, up by 36.6 percent year on year.
Economic cooperation and trade are vital to the shared interests of China and the United States, and any setback will be fundamentally harmful. According to reports released by Moody's, trade war with China has cost the U.S. around 300 thousand jobs, and every American family has lost about 600 dollars. Over 90 percent of the costs caused by the extra tariffs on Chinese imports have been borne by American companies and consumers.
According to AmCham Shanghai's latest report in September, 78 percent of the surveyed companies are either "optimistic or slightly optimistic" about the next five years in China. That is nearly 20 percentage points higher compared to 2020.
You mentioned just now that USTR Katherine Tai also acknowledged that trade decoupling with China is not realistic in a global economy, and the U.S. is considering a kind of re-coupling with China. We hope the U.S. government will truly change its course and work with the business community to turn economic cooperation and trade into an "ice-breaker" in China-U.S. relations.
Liu Xin: Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have announced the creation of a trilateral security partnership called "AUKUS" and planned to cooperate on nuclear-powered submarines for Australia. How will this affect the regional situation?
Le Yucheng: AUKUS is a small bloc composed of Anglo-Saxon nations. It advocates a new Cold War, and stirs up zero-sum geopolitical games. AUKUS brings only harm, nothing good at all. First of all, it triggers the risks of nuclear proliferation, seriously violates the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and brings harm to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. It undermines the progress toward a Southeast Asia nuclear weapon-free zone. The recent collision accident of a U.S. nuclear submarine in the South China Sea is an alarming example. Although we have not heard of report of nuclear leak yet, it is still a very serious matter. Frequent entry of nuclear submarines into the South China Sea brings high risks of nuclear proliferation and on nuclear safety. If not handled properly, it may cause a nuclear disaster.
At the same time, AUKUS aims to seek maritime hegemony. It stokes arms race in the region, fuels military risk-taking, and undermines regional peace and stability. China firmly opposes AUKUS. Countries in the region and the international community all have plenty of reasons to oppose and resist it.
Liu Xin: Some claim that China's increasingly tough stance and growing military prowess in recent years were the reasons that strategic alliances such as AUKUS came into being. What is your take?
Le Yucheng: To find a cover for an egregious act by blaming others, that's unfair and unreasonable. On one hand, the U.S. and the U.K. use sanctions to deter other countries from developing uranium enrichment technology. But on the other hand, they blatantly equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. They dished out "China assertiveness" as an excuse, but it cannot cover their double standard. Their real intention is to draw a line along races, stoke military confrontation, and create tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, in order to profit from it.
Liu Xin: There have been more noises on the issue of Taiwan recently. You said once that it is dangerous to play the "Taiwan card". But some people seem eager to play it anyway. What do you think is behind this? And what would be the consequences?
Le Yucheng: The noises you refer to are that some people in the United States breach the one-China commitment and keep stepping on the red line, using salami tactics and playing the "Taiwan card". The one-China principle is the cornerstone of the establishment and development of our diplomatic ties. Without a solid foundation, everything above will be shaky. Taking the foundation as a card is as dangerous as playing with fire while holding firewood. On the other hand, Taiwan should not entertain being used as a card. A self-perceived trump card may eventually end up being useless or discarded.
I wish to emphasize that any attempt to contain China by using the Taiwan question, and to obstruct China's reunification and rejuvenation will end up in failure. China's reunification and rejuvenation is unstoppable. As President Xi Jinping pointed out in his speech at the meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 that no one should underestimate the resolve, the will and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The historic mission of China's complete reunification must be achieved and can definitely be achieved.
Liu Xin: The U.S. claims that it does not want a new Cold War, but at the same time, it is forming small blocs and putting together the so-called "Leaders' Summit for Democracy". What is your view about that?
Le Yucheng: I have noticed that in his recent UN General Assembly speech, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. is not seeking a new Cold War or a divided world. But at the same time the United States has moved to piece together AUKUS, upgrade the Quad and enhance the Five Eyes. This is nothing but the same old Cold War approach.
With regard to the so-called Summit for Democracy, the U.S. record of democracy is anything but glorious. The storming of the Capitol is still fresh in everybody's memory. Internationally, the U.S. has created one mess after another through "color revolution" and "democratic transformation". Moreover, with only some members of the international community participating, how democratic can the summit be?
Democracy is a common value of the entire humanity, not a special right for any individual country. Monopolizing the definition of democracy to the advantage of certain countries and instigating ideological confrontation along the line of "democracy versus authoritarianism" is the direct opposite of democracy. It will bring nothing but harm.
Liu Xin: How will China respond on the diplomatic front to the wrong actions by the U.S.? What specific actions have been taken?
Le Yucheng: While the United States is busy building small blocs and playing zero-sum games in geopolitics, China is more actively safeguarding international peace and stability, building a community with a shared future for mankind, and making positive contribution to the world.
In his speech at the General Assembly, President Xi Jinping proposed the Global Development Initiative to promote more robust, greener and more balanced global development and to speed up the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have provided more than 1.25 billion doses of vaccines for the world, and will raise the total number to two billion doses by the end of this year. We are working hard to get the world together to fight the virus, oppose politicizing origins-tracing, and enable the world to step out of the shadow of the pandemic as soon as possible.
We are taking an active part in international cooperation on climate change and implementing the climate cooperation initiatives put forth by President Xi Jinping. We have announced that we will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad. And this week we are hosting COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference in order to facilitate a global transition toward green and low-carbon development.
We are playing a unique and constructive role on hotspot issues, such as Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear issue, and the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, in order to safeguard regional peace and stability. We uphold true multilateralism. We actively promote the reform of the global governance system. We are firmly opposed to any attempt to create a new Cold War. China's diplomacy always strives to conform with the trend of the times, to stand on the right side of history and to uphold international fairness and justice. This is the right path, and we will stay the course.
Liu Xin: Thanks to the efforts by the Chinese government, Ms. Meng Wanzhou returned to the motherland on 25 September. Some comments suggest that China is by far the only country that was able to push back U.S. long-arm jurisdiction. What factors contributed to Meng's return?
Le Yucheng: With the relentless efforts of the Chinese government, Meng Wanzhou returned home safely after over 1,000 days of illegal detention. Her return on the eve of China's National Day, was a particularly special gift on the occasion.
The Chinese authorities always had Meng Wanzhou in mind during her nearly three years of illegal detention. President Xi Jinping paid personal attention to the situation. During his phone call with U.S. president, President Xi raised the issue explicitly and urged the U.S. to properly resolve it as soon as possible. Of course, the support of the 1.4 billion Chinese people has been a tremendous factor. A netizen commented that Meng was detained and released because of China's rise. Our competent authorities and diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S. and Canada also worked very hard. After her return, the Foreign Ministry has received many flowers, especially from university students. It is a big endorsement of our people-centered diplomacy.
Liu Xin: What does China's experience mean to other countries?
Le Yucheng: Some say Meng Wanzhou was freed from not only the electronic tracker, but also the shackles of hegemony and coercion, and it shows that nothing can stand in the way of Chinese people's march forward. I have noted that Frédéric Pierucci, a former senior manager of the French company Alstom, commented that her case is likely to be a historic turning point, encouraging other countries to stand up and fight back in the face of hegemony and power politics. I believe he is right.