Editor’s note: On July 4, 2022, the 10th World Peace Forum in Beijing held a panel titled ‘Stabilizing Sino-US Relations in a Turbulent World’. The four panelists included Daniel R. Russel (Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute), Wang Jisi (Dean of the Institute for International & Strategic Studies at Peking University), Ambassador James Stapleton Roy (former U.S. Ambassador to China), and Susan Thornton (Visiting Lecturer in Law and Senior Fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School). Wu Xinbo (Dean of the Institute of International Studies and Director at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University) also participated in the discussion.
Below is a translation of Phoenix (凤凰) media’s column ‘Phoenix Reference’ (凤凰大参考), which included a brief summary and transcription of Wang Jisi’s remarks during the Q&A.
During the panel discussion, Professor Wang Jisi put forward three hopes with regards to current Sino-US relations, “to restore and enhance normal foreign exchanges; to find ways to avoid war; to continue to develop economic and trade relations and scientific and technological exchanges”. In addition, he gave his own responses to questions about U.S. policy toward China, the attitudes of both China and the United States on Taiwan, the voices of the people and the government, the impact of China’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian war on the United States, and relations with third-party countries. Wang’s prescription for stabilizing U.S.-China relations is in the following four areas: achieving peace and stability, seeking better communication channels, raising issues in specific terms; and creating clearer transmission of attitudes by the government.
> Professor Wang Jisi believes that China and the United States should resume and increase exchanges. Normalized exchanges between the two countries have been interrupted for almost two and a half years. Now it is time to restart and restore normal routes, so that contacts between diplomats, business officials, and businesses of both sides can resume and even expand.
> China and the United States should continue to develop economic and trade relations and scientific and technological exchanges. There are still large-scale economic and trade exchanges between the two countries. Some people in the United States claim that “national security is higher than economic interests”, but economic interests are actually part and parcel of national security and should not be opposed.
> Both China and the US should avoid war. On the Taiwan issue, senior officials of the Chinese government have never proposed “armed reunification” or given a timetable, but people in the United States keep advocating this is the case, which is an attempt to draw the two countries into war.
> Think tanks and media in both China and the United States should actively speak out and make efforts to improve relations. The U.S. government has a relatively clear understanding of China’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian war, but the media reports are not the same as that of the government. The Chinese media is better [on this point], but there is room for improvement.
The following is the full text of Professor Wang Jisi’s speech and Q&A
Wang Jisi: Thank you for inviting us to the World Peace Forum! Thank you, Mr. Yan Xuetong! After listening to Mr. Russell’s views on U.S.-China relations, I thought of our interactions with our American counterparts and American diplomats over the years. I would like to raise three points of hope at this time.
The first point is to restore and enhance normal diplomatic exchanges. For reasons that are well known to all of us, normal diplomatic exchanges between the United States and China have been almost completely suspended for more than two and a half years, but I think it is time for us to make a fresh start and resume [them]. I remember when Ambassador Stapleton Roy was the U.S. ambassador to China between 1991 and 1995. We established a lot of contacts, and at that time Chinese think tanks were not developed, but Ambassador Roy had a lot of contacts with our scholars, and I benefited a lot from that.
With respect to Mr. Daniel Russel and Ms. Susan Thornton, I remember most vividly when they both came to China for preparations on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States in September 2015. At that time, the U.S. ambassador to China was Max Baucus, and we had a very in-depth conversation in Beijing. [Mr. Russel and Ms. Thornton] raised three very urgent issues that need to be addressed in the U.S.-China relationship: the first was the trade deficit, the second was the potential for conflict in the South China Sea, and the third was cyber security. Later, they told us the most urgent issue that needed to be addressed was cyber security, so President Xi Jinping sent his special envoy, State Councilor Meng Jianzhu, to the United States. This trip was made ten days before President Xi’s visit to the U.S., and I should say it was a result of close diplomatic contact between China and the U.S. And, then, this issue was alleviated and Xi’s visit was very successful.
As you can imagine in retrospect, it has been seven years since President Xi’s state visit to the United States in September 2015. Since that time, the Chinese president has not been able to make another state visit to the country, while the U.S. president (latest) state visit to China was President Trump’s visit in 2017. Five years have passed. I think that although high-level contacts between China and the U.S. are still ongoing, but most of the communication is conducted virtually. The Chinese and US presidents have had four telephone or virtual conversations in the past year. These are very important, and I think such high-level contacts, including those between diplomats, should continue and increase.
The more urgent issue now is that airlines between the two sides should return to normal, so that diplomats, embassies, and consulates of both countries can conduct more normal activities, which I think is very useful to prevent strategic miscalculation and to understand each other’s inner thoughts. And, as I suggested earlier, if we have a lot of specific issues that need to be resolved, it is important to enhance mutual communication through diplomatic contacts, not only between diplomats, but also between commercial officials and between enterprises. My first hope is that we can resume exchanges as soon as possible. I visited the United States for a month between February and March of this year, and I met three American friends who are sitting across from me now and had in-depth conversations with them, which I found very meaningful.
My second hope is that both sides should find ways to avoid war. The downward trend of Sino-US relations in recent years is obvious. The general judgment is that if the relationship between the two countries deteriorates step by step, it will eventually lead to a war. Will there be a war between China and the United States? Of course, we hope to avoid war, but I cannot say with confidence that there won’t be a war between China and the United States in the near future. If there is a war between the two sides, the biggest danger is the Taiwan Strait, which is the core and most sensitive issue in the Sino-U.S. relationship. In the 1950s, there was a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, but there was no direct war between the United States and China. There was also tension in the Taiwan Strait after Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States in 1995, [but] there was no direct conflict. I am reminded that in 2020, two current senior U.S. officials, Jake Sullivan and Kurt M. Campbell, published the article ‘U.S. Policy Toward China’ in the journal Foreign Affairs (editor’s note: the article was actually published in Foreign Affairs in September 2019, and was titled “How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China”, which should be a slip of the tongue by Professor Wang), and there was a line in it that really struck me, where they said, “The problem that has been best dealt with between the United States and China is the Taiwan issue.” Although I don’t agree with this statement, I think what they mean is the two countries have reached a consensus that there shouldn’t be a war over the Taiwan issue through diplomatic contacts and regular exchanges of views.
To date, the United States still insists that it adheres to the ‘One China’ policy, which is of course different from the ‘One China’ principle that we are talking about, but the United States is still adhering to the ‘One China’ and saying that the U.S. does not support Taiwan independence. On the Chinese side, we have always said that we adhere to “peaceful reunification and one country, two systems”, and that there has been no substantive change in mainland China’s policy toward Taiwan. But why do we feel that the situation in Taiwan is very tense recently? I think I am a little confused or surprised by some of the public opinions I have seen, such as the articles published by American think tanks saying that something big is going to happen in Taiwan, that there is going to be a war between China and the United States in Taiwan, and that China will solve the Taiwan issue by armed reunification in the near future or with a timetable. I should say that I am very concerned about the Taiwan issue, but I have not heard any senior Chinese government officials talk about armed reunification, nor have I heard any timetable for them to solve the Taiwan issue by armed reunification. But some people on the U.S. side are advocating this, and I think this advocacy is a little bit delusional or malicious. I do have this concern that some people want to draw China and the U.S. into a war, which is something we need to avoid.
I personally have confidence in the peaceful reunification of China because China continues to develop and prosper, the economy is booming, and there is a strong emphasis on the rule of law; on the issue of Taiwan, I think it is only a matter of time before Taiwan returns to the motherland and there is no hope for “Taiwan independence”. If the United States does not support it, and it will not succeed. Therefore, I think we need to do a lot of things to keep the situation in the Taiwan Strait stable, including in terms of public opinion. We can no longer allow such an excessive war of words to occupy the center of our public opinion, so that there will not be a big war between China and the United States. I think the conflict and competition between China and the United States is inevitable, but what can be avoided is a war.
My third hope is to continue to develop economic and trade relations and scientific and technological exchanges. In fact, despite the decline in Sino-U.S. relations, economic and trade exchanges between China and the U.S. can still be maintained at a certain scale. Even the latest news is that in 2021, the export of U.S. trade goods to China has reached a record high, which means that the trade of goods between China and the United States is increasing, not decreasing.
After the Trump administration launched the trade war with China, both China and the United States have suffered losses. According to the information I have seen, the United States has suffered even greater losses, and American companies have suffered a lot. So I expect the United States to reduce or exempt some of the tariffs on Chinese merchandize. When I visited the United States, I heard a statement that made me very unhappy – ‘national security is [of greater importance] than economic interests’. Are economic interests not part and parcel of national security? How can it be said that national security is more important than economic interests? Well, I don’t think it’s correct to pit national security against economic interests.
Recently, a friend of mine, Evan G. Greenberg, and his father, Maurice Greenberg, both advocate for the continued development of U.S.-China economic and trade relations. Evan gave a speech at CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) and his tone was that the economic relationship with China should be based on interests, not on what the Americans call ideological principles or other things, and I strongly agree with that. But he also raised the point that it seems that people who hold such views in the U.S. will be sidelined in politics, and that some people even slander them. I think this political barrier should be lifted. At the same time, I know that our friends in the Chinese business community are very eager to resume normal economic exchanges between China and the United States, especially [Chinese companies that want to) invest in the United States; American companies also want to invest in China.
Question from the moderator: I would like to ask Professor Wang Jisi, just now Ambassador Roy said that the U.S. policy towards China is aimless, so what do you think is a viable final state of bilateral relations between China and the US in the next two years?
Wang Jisi: What I hope is the goal and next step in U.S.-China relations is to reach a consensus that the two countries can resume and enhance normal diplomatic exchanges. There is no consensus on what we should do and what we can’t do, and both China and the United States have expressed their own views. American views may be more comprehensive, while the Chinese side expresses its views in more general or principled terms, such as mutual respect, win-win cooperation and so on. But on some specific issues, I think there is still some room for discussion between the two sides. I am afraid that a fourth joint communiqué is not possible, because it may be difficult to reach a comprehensive scale, a very perfect and historically significant consensus. But at least both sides can talk about how to avoid conflict and how to enhance cooperation in the future, as Mr. Russell has just said, we need to be specific.
Question from participant: The United States is a pluralistic society, and there are different views on the U.S.-China relationship, and there are different think tanks from the left to the center to the right, and there are also different views in China, from the public to the scholars, and maybe (also) to the political leaders, which I don’t know their views very well but I feel there are those who are very active in promoting better U.S.-China relations and there those who are anti-American at every step of the way. My question to all of you is, in the context of such a deteriorating relationship, how can we communicate effectively suggestions on the improvement of bilateral relations to the policy-making circles in order to advance U.S.-China relationship?
Wang Jisi: The lady just mentioned that there are different voices in China and the U.S., especially in the think tanks, and I think this is a fact that exists and cannot be changed. In the Internet era, it’s normal for all kinds of voices to emerge. I think if we need to do anything, we can only say that we have to say what we think is right, but everyone thinks they are right, so everyone grabs the microphone and says “I want to speak”, “I represent the mainstream of policy” or “I represent the voice of the Chinese state”. This, of course, requires the government to come out and say what its policy is. There needs to be some clarification. For example, I have just raised the issue that our voice on ‘peaceful reunification and one country, two systems’ is already quite strong, especially as I heard from the spokesperson of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office. And, as I mentioned earlier, if “Taiwan independence” develops further in a desperate way, we will have to use military force and non-peaceful means. But whether this non-peaceful means is what some people call armed reunification, I am afraid that our government needs to make it clear. Non-peaceful means are being used now, that is, military deterrence against ‘Taiwan independence’. This makes pro-independence people in Taiwan feel threatened greatly if they choose to march down the road of independence. However, whether this will solve the Taiwan issue once and for all needs to be made clearer by the relevant parties.
The United States not only has a different voice on the issue of U.S.-China relations, they also disagree on the issue of whether China is a threat or an adversary. But Americans always have different voices in any situation and on any issues, so I hope that these different voices will come out, especially more moderate and rational voices. The American media should also start to play a role, including these American people here, and their voices should be louder in the American media.
Question from participant at the Institute for Peaceful Development, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: Before the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including the period before and after President Trump took office, in the eyes of American scholars (or Americans in general), China and Russia were two different countries, and although the U.S.-China relationship had begun to move in a downward cycle at that time, they still considered China and Russia to be very different. What I would like to ask is that after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there seems to be a tendency in the United States to lump China and Russia into one category. What is the difference in attitudes toward China and Russia, and especially the position toward China, in the American academic or political circles today? What are their views?
Wang Jisi: Ambassador Roy just mentioned that when the conflict in Ukraine first happened, some people in the U.S. described China as equal to Russia, and they still do, but I think the U.S. government’s view today is not exactly the same as it was when the war first started. The U.S. does not see China as an equal to Russia, the suspicion that “China was involved in the planning of the attack on Ukraine” has been dispelled. The Chinese government and our Ambassador Qin Gang have clarified many times that China did not know in advance that Russia was going to launch what he called a ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine, and that China has not provided substantial military support to Russia so far, which the U.S. government is well aware of, even though the media reports do not exactly echo the view of the U.S. government.
Question from German Embassy participant: In the United States, in China, there are many people who are actually very concerned about the relationship (between China and the United States) and with other countries, and there are many diplomats from third countries in China. I don’t remember any third country diplomats ever being asked the question that if they support China they will have a bad relationship with the U.S., and if they criticize China they will have a particularly good relationship with the U.S. No one asks that question, and I wonder how the two countries can overcome such a particular focus on the other side, and is it possible to focus on other issues?
Wang Jisi: I think it is a reality that China and the United States pay too much attention to each other and not sufficient attention to other countries, but I think China is doing better than the United States in this regard. For example, I watch the ‘News Broadcast’ every day, and General Secretary Xi Jinping often calls and sends videos to leaders of other countries, and not only the United States, but also island countries in the Pacific and countries in Latin America or the Caribbean whose names we can’t even remember. China pays attention to these countries and has a lot of contact with them, and I also believe that this attnetion and this contact is not directed at the United States. A lot of U.S. diplomatic activities are now more focused on China, and this situation will hopefully change gradually. But there is one thing that I’m not happy about – why are there at least two stories about the U.S. every day, and they’re both negative? They are about mass shootings taking place again, racial conflict expanding or Covid pandemic getting out of control. Can we talk about Africa, about Latin America, and not about the bad things in the United States every day?