NCUSCR Conversation with Politburo Member Yang Jiechi

February 1, 2021, U.S./February 2, 2021 China

The National Committee was pleased that Politburo Member Yang Jiechi accepted the invitation to address our members and the American public at this critical time in the Sino-American relationship.

Director Yang’s public remarks were followed by a private, off-the-record question and answer session with some fifty members of the National Committee’s Board of Directors, who asked questions on various topics, including the potential for new U.S.-China dialogues, Taiwan, the Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, media censorship, the possibility of China’s joining the Paris Club of creditor nations, and what actions China and the United States could take in the opening weeks of the Biden administration to help create greater political space to move toward better relations.

You can access a recording of Director Yang’s speech here, as well as an English transcript below.

Introductory Remarks by National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Chair Secretary Jacob Lew

Good evening – I am Jack Lew, the new Chair of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and on behalf of the Committee I would like to extend a warm welcome to the many people in the United States and China who are joining us today. The interest in this evening’s event is a testament to the fact that, as our new Secretary of State, and my friend, Tony Blinken recently said, America’s ties with China are arguably its most important.

I am very pleased to welcome this evening The Honorable Yang Jiechi – a distinguished Chinese leader and member of the Politburo; a former Ambassador to the United States, Foreign Minister, and State Councilor; and also a long time-friend of this organization.

It was over four decades ago, in the summer of 1977, that Director Yang Jiechi first came to the United States as an interpreter for a senior delegation from the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, and it was the National Committee that hosted the delegation.

Yang Jiechi made a strong impression on those he met, with his superb grasp of English, both formal and idiomatic, and his dedication to channeling the demeanor of those for whom he interpreted. Those same characteristics made him an effective counterpart in the Strategic and Economic Dialogues when he led the Chinese delegation along with Vice Chairman Wang Yang; as Treasury Secretary I led the US delegation along with Secretary of State John Kerry.

During the Strategic and Economic Dialogue both sides engaged vigorously on difficult issues, with the objective of finding ways to work together on common goals, while pressing for change, and seeking pathways towards progress, in areas where our two nations disagree.

At a time of increased tension in relations between our countries, new leadership in the United States offers a moment to take stock of how best to move forward. But it would be a mistake to think that a return to more familiar interlocutors means that issues of great concern will recede. From the US perspective, there are issues ranging from economic competition, to geostrategic concerns and human rights that will be very much at the top of the list of concerns. I am sure Director Yang will present some of the issues of most concern to China. But listening is only the beginning: for the relationship between our great nations to reach a level of engagement and understanding that would benefit each of us, and the global community, it is essential that communication lead to tangible steps forward.

From my own years of experience, I also know that if leaders approach even very challenging issues, and build personal relationships that permit candid exchanges, progress can be made, and conflicts can be managed if agreements are followed by actions.

Director Yang through the years has demonstrated skill and creativity in his approach to hard issues. The Committee has been very pleased to work closely with him over the past forty-four years, especially during the many years when he served at the Chinese embassy in Washington, and he, his wife, and his daughter forged very close friendships with several current and former members of the Committee board and staff.

We look forward to hearing from Director Yang this evening, and it is my pleasure to invite him at this time to offer his remarks.

Remarks by Director Yang Jiechi

It is a pleasure to have this virtual conversation with board members of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. You all are leading figures with important influence representing different sectors of the American society, including key members of previous administrations, accomplished business leaders, and well-known scholars in the strategic community. I look forward to a deep-going discussion with you all on China-U.S. relations and matters of shared interest.

The National Committee has witnessed and contributed to the growth of China-U.S. relations. It played a prominent role in ping-pong diplomacy by hosting the Chinese table tennis team on their first visit to the United States. In its 55-year history, the National Committee has made a valuable contribution to promoting the mutual understanding, exchanges and cooperation between the Chinese and the American people. We commend your great efforts. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China. I wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to Dr. Kissinger and other friends for your long-lasting efforts to promote the friendship, mutual trust, cooperation and broader bilateral relations between our two countries.

In 2020, the world was caught by the sudden attack of COVID-19. While the pandemic is thought-provoking, the most important thing is that in the era of globalization, the interests of countries are so intertwined that solidarity and enhanced coordination and cooperation are the only way for us to tackle global challenges effectively and create a better future for all. China and the United States are the two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council. Effective cooperation between the two has a direct bearing on the well-being of all people as well as peace, development and prosperity of the world.

For the past few years, the Trump administration adopted misguided policies against China, plunging the relationship into its most difficult period since the establishment of diplomatic ties. Some in the United States, sticking to Cold War thinking, perceived China as a threat. Their rhetoric and actions have interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, and disrupted exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides. There have also been attempts to seek “decoupling” and a so-called “new Cold War”. Such moves, going against the trend of the times, have seriously damaged China-U.S. relations as well as the fundamental interests of the two peoples.

We believe that peace and development are still the prevailing trend of the times, and that peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation remain the shared aspiration of all peoples. China calls for establishing a new type of international relations characterized by mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, and for building a community with a shared future for mankind. This is both our vision and our guide for action. It must be pointed out that the 1.4 billion Chinese people wholeheartedly support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and they are rallying closely around the CPC and forging ahead on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics with great resolve and determination. No force could stop China’s continuous development or the noble cause of global peace and development.

It is good to note that in times of great difficulty for China-U.S. relations, the force for bilateral exchanges and cooperation has never been absent. A great number of institutions, groups and individuals in the United States, including the National Committee, have made their voices heard and their views known through co-signed letters, articles and webinars. A strong case is made for cooperation instead of confrontation between China and the United States. Such voices of reason, in stark contrast with the noise and disruption from China hawks, are most valuable for upholding overall stability of China-U.S. relations.

The year 2020 has been a most extraordinary one. In the trying times of the sudden onslaught of COVID-19, the Chinese and American people reached out to each other. A great number of local governments, businesses, civil groups and individuals in the United States gave their valuable support to China. From the Chinese side, many provinces, cities, companies, institutions and ordinary people pitched in, among other things, by facilitating U.S. purchases of Chinese medical supplies. Video clips recorded by Chinese and American youngsters cheering for one another warmed all our hearts. As quoted from letters of appreciation by U.S. states and cities, the mutual assistance and support between the two sides in this difficult time were instrumental to our joint fight to bring the virus under control.

“Mountains do not meet, but people do.” The communication and friendship between the Chinese and American people can never be stopped. Despite the many obstacles, our bilateral exchanges and cooperation in various fields have registered new progress. With another four pairs of sister cities established last year, China and the United States now have 50 pairs of sister provinces and states and 231 pairs of sister cities. According to the Member Survey conducted by the U.S.-China Business Council last year, 91 percent of the U.S. companies surveyed showed that their China operations were profitable and 87 percent of the companies reported no plans to shift production out of China. The fact is, our two countries’ economic cooperation and trade have continued to grow against the headwinds. In 2020, two-way trade in goods grew by more than 8 percent to over 580 billion dollars, including over 130 billion dollars of Chinese imports from the United States, up by nearly 10 percent.

A review of history and reality points to one thing: cooperation between China and the United States is desired by the people in both countries, and such a popular trend cannot be reversed. Between China and the United States, there are so many shared and interconnected interests. Those who seek to disrupt bilateral ties are driven by political gains and narrow-minded prejudice. They will be standing on the wrong side of history and alienating themselves from people in both countries. And their attempts will never get anywhere.

In the past year, the Chinese people, working as one under the leadership and instruction of President Xi Jinping, made major strategic progress in both COVID response and economic and social development. Historic achievements were made in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and decisive victory was won in ending extreme poverty nation-wide. The year 2021 marks the centenary of the Communist Party of China. It is also the first year in our implementation of the 14th Five-Year Plan, a year in which China will embark on a new journey toward building a modern socialist country. As China enters a new development stage, we will fully apply the new development vision and foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. The next five years will see China embracing high-quality development.

I know many of you are familiar with China’s momentous journey since reform and opening-up started over four decades ago, and you know the country well from your visits to China at different times in the past. Opening-up has been a key driving force behind China’s rapid development. We remain fully committed to this fundamental policy and there will be no wavering in our commitment. What has happened over the past 40-plus years proves that reform and opening-up is a win-win process. It has brought benefits not only to China, but also to the United States and the world beyond. On 17 January 2017, President Xi Jinping stated at the World Economic Forum that China’s development is an opportunity for the world. China is committed to a path of pursuing common development through opening-up. While developing itself, China has shared much of the fruit of its development with other countries and peoples and lent much momentum to an open world economy. On 25 January this year, President Xi Jinping stressed at the World Economic Forum’s “Davos Agenda” virtual event that China will continue to implement a win-win strategy of opening-up and is committed to following through on its fundamental policy of opening-up. China will foster a business environment that is based on market principles, governed by law and up to international standards, and will unleash the potential of the huge China market and domestic demand, so as to give further impetus to global economic recovery and growth. President Xi’s important remarks have sent a positive signal that China remains committed to deepening reform and pursuing greater opening-up at a higher level. They also speak volumes about China’s strong commitment to achieving common prosperity with the rest of the world. As China’s economy grows, the Chinese people naturally want to lead a better life. This will mean more demand for a greater variety of quality products, technologies and services from other countries. In the coming decade, total import into China is expected to top 22 trillion dollars. This, I believe, will be a strong boost to foreign companies, including American companies, as they pursue innovation and business opportunities. It also means an ever growing market for other countries around the world.

More than a week ago, the Biden administration officially took office. China-U.S. relations now stand at a key moment and face new opportunities and new challenges. People in the two countries and beyond are watching closely as to where this relationship is heading. It is a task for both China and the United States to restore the relationship to a predictable and constructive track of development, and to build a model of interaction between the two major countries that focuses on peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. This, I believe, also answers to the expectation of countries in the global community.

The Chinese government takes a stable and consistent policy toward the United States. China is prepared to work with the United States to move the relationship forward along the track of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation for the well-being of both countries and peoples. In the meantime, we will continue to stand firm as we defend our sovereignty, security and development interests. We hope the new administration will respond to the will of both peoples and follow the trend of history. By focusing on cooperation and managing differences together, the two sides will be able to return the relationship to the course of sound and steady development. For that to happen, I believe the following are most important:

First, China should be seen as it is. The previous administration has pursued some misguided policies towards China. The root cause, I would say, is a strategic misjudgment by some in the United States – they view China as a major strategic competitor, even an adversary. That, I am afraid, is historically, fundamentally and strategically wrong. China’s development is essentially about bettering the lives of its people. China is committed to the path of peaceful development, a win-win strategy of opening-up, and a development that is shared by all countries, the United States included. We will work with other countries to deliver a better future for all. That said, I need to point out that no one is in the position to deny the Chinese people their right to a better life. The development of China is a process that no force can ever hold back. The growth of China-U.S. relations has fully demonstrated that our two countries can and must cooperate and coordinate with each other more closely for our common good. That is also what the world expects from us. We in China hope that the United States will rise above the outdated mentality of zero-sum, major-power rivalry and work with China to keep the relationship on the right track.

Second, normal interactions need to be restored. The growth of China-U.S. relations is the result of decades of commitment and dedication by Chinese and Americans from all sectors to maintaining engagement, exchange, communication and cooperation. It is not something to be taken for granted. For normal exchanges to resume, our two sides have to work in the same direction. At the government level, our embassies and other channels should serve as bridges. Other players including think tanks, universities, media organizations, and businesses as well as exchanges at the sub-national level can also contribute in their own ways to bolstering the overall relations. I hope that the new administration will remove the stumbling blocks to people-to-people exchanges, like harassing Chinese students, restricting Chinese media outlets, shutting down Confucius Institutes and suppressing Chinese companies. These policy measures are not only wrong but also unpopular. Instead, more should be done to send a positive message of China and the United States working together, to encourage a positive public perception of each other and win more public support for growing our relations.

Third, proper management of differences is called for. As two big countries with different histories, cultures and systems, China and the United States may disagree on some issues. What matters is that we manage our differences properly so that they do not stand in the way of our overall relations. Both sides need to respect each other’s histories, cultures and traditions, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and respect each other’s choices of political system and development path. China never meddles in the internal affairs of the United States, including its elections. China never exports its development model or seeks ideological confrontation. China has no intention to challenge or replace the U.S. position in the world, or to carve out a sphere of influence. Likewise, we expect the United States to honor its commitment under the three Sino-U.S. Joint Communiqués, strictly abide by the One China principle, and respect China’s position and concerns on the Taiwan question. The United States should stop interference in the affairs of Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, which all matter to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and stop attempts to hold back China’s development by meddling in China’s internal affairs. History and reality have shown time and again that these issues concern China’s core interests, national dignity, as well as the sentiments of its 1.4 billion people. They constitute a redline that must not be crossed. Any trespassing would end up undermining China-U.S. relations and the United States’ own interests. We in China hope that the U.S. side will fully understand the sensitivity of these issues and handle them with prudence, so as to avoid disruption or damage to mutual trust and cooperation.

Fourth, mutually beneficial cooperation ought to be broadened. As President Xi Jinping has pointed out on multiple occasions, China and the United States working together can make great things happen not just for the two countries but for the world at large. In the face of COVID-19, there are more and broader areas where China and the United States can and must cooperate. COVID response, economic recovery and climate change, among others, could become promising areas of cooperation for China and the United States. We could also discuss ways to jointly improve the global public health system. Those few U.S. politicians should immediately stop using the pandemic to stigmatize China. Instead, they should do things that will contribute to an enabling environment for bilateral cooperation against COVID-19.

On trade, China emphasizes that trade issues should not be politicized, and the concept of “national security” should not be abused. China will always welcome U.S. business investment in China, and it falls on both sides to provide a fair, open and non-discriminatory environment for each other’s companies. Better growth prospects in the world’s two biggest economies will bring greater benefits to our two peoples and the rest of the world. China is ready for closer macroeconomic policy coordination and more cooperation with the United States to keep the global industrial and supply chains safe and maintain global economic and financial stability. Such efforts would certainly help revive economic growth in our two countries and the world as a whole.

On climate change, China is committed to following a new development philosophy and delivering its pledges under the Paris Agreement. China has announced its goals of striving to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. For China and the United States, climate change, renewable energy and low-carbon, sustainable development could be areas of mutually beneficial cooperation, which I believe will serve economic and social development in our countries and help protect Mother Earth.

There should be closer exchanges and cooperation between our militaries and in law enforcement, drug control and cyber security, and more communication and coordination on regional hotspot issues and on major global challenges such as poverty reduction through development, counterterrorism and nonproliferation. Together, we could provide more public goods to the world. We could also strengthen cooperation at the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the G20, APEC and other multilateral fora to enhance global governance and promote a globalization process that is more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all.

The history of China-U.S. relations gives us reason to be optimistic about a brighter future for China-U.S. relations. We need to bear in mind the fundamental interests of people in our two countries and beyond. We need to respect each other, seek common ground while putting aside differences, keep disagreements under effective control, and expand common interests. If we follow this approach, I am convinced that the China-U.S. relationship will embark on a path of improvement and development, a prospect that would benefit our two peoples and the entire world tremendously. We will count on the National Committee, all of its board members, and indeed Americans from all walks of life to continue playing your positive role and contributing your wisdom and strength to the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations.
Thank you.

Ending Remarks by Jacob Lew

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us this evening. Your talk raised several important areas that will require deeper exploration and further dialogue. I am delighted that you will now be joining the board of the National Committee for an off the record discussion to continue the conversation on the issues you raised, as well as other challenges between our two nations, and what actions may create space for improving relations.

But before we end this initial part of our conversation, I want to wish you and your family, as well as those Chinese in the audience, a happy new year. 2021 is the year of the ox, and I am told by those are more familiar with the Chinese zodiac cycle than I, that oxen are known for their determination and proclivity for hard work. It seems to me that these are two great attributes for those of us engaged in trying to move the U.S.-China relationship into a new era of mutual benefit, respect, and stability. It will indeed take a great deal of hard work and determination, and I wish us all success in that endeavor, as well as a happy and a healthy New Year.

To learn more about the event and speakers, please visit the event webpage here.