On 16 April 2021, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng spoke with Ken Teizo Moritsugu of the Associated Press (AP) at an exclusive interview. The following is a transcript of the interview:
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to be with me and AP today. I think it’s a pivotal time for China and for U.S.-China relations, and I think our audience and myself personally are very eager to hear what you have to say about U.S.-China relations in the 21st century.
Le Yucheng: It is my pleasure to have this interview. We are at a time when the world is undergoing once-in-a-century changes. China and the United States are the world’s two biggest economies. How we engage with each other is an important question. The relationship between the two major countries must be properly handled.
Since the Biden administration took office, there have been some positive interactions between China and the United States. President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden talked on the phone and exchanged New Year greetings on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. They also had a long discussion on bilateral relations, which has pointed the way forward. Last month, the two countries had a dialogue in Anchorage. Although the opening remarks were a little bit unusual, the dialogue was a constructive and useful one on the whole. The teams on both sides are now actively working on the follow-ups of the dialogue. All this tells us that for China and the United States, dialogue is better than confrontation. Dialogue can enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust, and pave the way for cooperation. Without dialogue, things cannot get started.
The U.S. side describes China as “the most serious competitor”, and defines the relationship as competitive, cooperative and adversarial. We do not quite agree. It disproportionately stresses competition and confrontation, and plays down cooperation. Such an approach is too negative and lacks a forward-going spirit.
For two big countries like China and the United States, competition might be inevitable. But competition must be healthy, and should not be allowed to become a vicious zero-sum game. China and the United States are two major countries with special responsibilities to the world. We need to avoid confrontation and in particular, avoid creating confrontation. We also need to do our best to expand cooperation, as it benefits both sides. As we have always said, China and the Unites States both gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Of course, cooperation shall always be equal-footed and lead to win-win outcomes. It is not one side drawing up a laundry list of demands to the other side.
In English, you have the prefix of “co-“, which means doing things together. In cooperation, one should not be selfish and care only about self-interests with little regard for the well-being of the other side.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu:I wonder if you could speak a little more directly to the Biden administration? Obviously he, as the new President, is almost approaching 100 days in office. I think everybody has a little better sense of how President Biden will lead the government and the country. And I wonder, up to now, how do you evaluate what the Biden administration has done and its approach to China. It seems that China will be able to work with the Biden administration, will you agree?
Le Yucheng: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the secret visit by Dr. Henry Kissinger. Over the past five decades, China-U.S. relations have achieved more than anyone could have imagined 50 years ago, bringing enormous benefits to the people of both countries. The history of China-U.S. engagement tells us one important thing: China and the United States, despite their different social systems, are well able to stay in peace, engage in mutually beneficial cooperation and move forward side by side.
Regrettably, there is a negative tendency in the United States, namely, some people are competing for being tougher on China and taking this as a politically correct thing to do. Some still refuse to accept that the 1.4 billion Chinese people have the right to pursue a better life, and that China has the right to pursue its own path of development, the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This tendency is dangerous, and could derail this relationship and lead the world to catastrophes. Such tendency must be stopped.
The two countries must refuse to be short-sighted. We need to look far, see the larger picture, keep this relationship to the overall direction of peace and cooperation, follow the spirit of no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and jointly strive for healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations.
China and the United States are cooperating on some specific issues. For instance, we have provided favorable COVID vaccination arrangements for each other’s diplomats. Special Envoy John Kerry is in China for discussions on cooperation against climate change. All these are positive trends that should be encouraged.
Le Yucheng: Indeed, the two climate envoys are having discussions in Shanghai. The relevant information will be released tomorrow. On climate, our two countries once worked together very closely. During the Obama administration, three joint statements and one cooperation document on climate change were issued. And we jointly played an important part for the Paris Agreement to be reached. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Agreement, which caused serious disruptions to international climate efforts. Now that President Biden has announced the U.S. return, we welcome that. Since the United States has come back, it shall stay and redouble its efforts to make up for the time lost during its absence. We expect the United States to do more on climate change. We have received the invitation from President Biden to President Xi to attend the Climate Summit. We are looking into it. The Chinese side will send a positive message at the meeting, a message for cooperation and a message for responsibility. Addressing climate change is not what others ask us to. We are doing so on our own initiative.
President Xi Jinping has set forth that green mountains and lucid waters are indeed mountains of gold and silver. Guided by this vision, China has come a long way in building ecological civilization. We are having bluer skies, greener mountains and cleaner rivers, and the Chinese people are happier with the improvement. At the same time, China sets great store by international cooperation on climate response. In September last year, President Xi Jinping announced that China will peak its carbon dioxide emission by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 as its nationally determined contributions (NDCs). For a big developing country with 1.4 billion people, these are no easy tasks. Some countries are asking China to fast forward the process. That, I am afraid, is not very realistic. When it comes to climate response, China is at a stage different from that of the U.S. and European developed countries – we are still a primary school student, while the U.S. and other developed countries are already in middle school. So, it is against the natural course of development if you ask these two groups of students to graduate at the same time. Developed countries will take 50 to 60 years to move from carbon peak to carbon neutrality, but China has undertaken to do it within 30 years. This is already a big commitment, isn’t it? China will continue to do its best efforts under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and will contribute even more to the global emissions reduction. If you read our 14th Five-Year Development Plan, you may notice those mandatory targets related to emissions reduction, reflecting the priority we give to peaking the CO2 emission on schedule. We honor our word and will make best efforts to meet the goals on schedule.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Just one more follow-up on climate. You mentioned that you would like to see the United States redouble its efforts in climate cooperation because of the time lost after Trump withdrew from the Paris accord. Are there any specific things that you are looking for the United States to do in this area?
Le Yucheng: Well, the United States could at least do one thing, that is to provide more technological and financial support to help upgrade the energy structure in developing countries. Lead by example, instead of blaming and scapegoating China.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Let me shift to the area of human rights. There is a huge divide between China and the United States on human rights. The Biden administration and its officials have repeatedly raised the issues of Xinjiang and Hong Kong. I know China has always responded and there is a back and forth. It feels like there is almost no way to resolve this issue of difference. How can China and the United States manage this issue and is there a danger that this issue could derail cooperation in other areas?
Le Yucheng: Well, China and the United States are two different civilizations. We are in different stages of development and have different historical background. It is normal that we do not always agree on human rights issues. That said, differences must not be turned into friction points, and human rights are no excuse to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. And no country is in the position to lecture others on human rights issues.
Human rights means a lot of things. Different countries and different populations have different demands on human rights. If you ask refugees from Syria and Libya which human rights they want, I think that they want their basic living needs to be met: jobs and enough food. Even in the United States, different populations have different needs. For George Floyd, the young man suffocated by the police, his last demand was to breathe. For African Americans, human rights mean that “black lives matter”. For Asian communities in the United States facing unfair treatment or even threat of violence, they simply want to be free from harm, fear and discrimination.
Human rights does have some universality. But when it comes to a particular country, practices could be different. Take COVID response for example, the internationally recognized practices are mask wearing, social distancing and two-week quarantine. But in some countries, some are unwilling to wear masks or keep social distancing, and there remain big-scale gatherings, and quarantine lasts for only three to five days.
The Chinese government puts people’s lives above everything else, and that is why we put Wuhan, a mega city with 11 million people, under lockdown for 76 days. At the time, some framed this as human rights violation and restrictions on freedom. But what happened has shown that we did the right thing. We have protected human rights by what we did, and we are not forcing others to follow our approach. If for some, tens of thousands of lives are the cost to pay for the right to not wear masks, if that is what they call personal freedom and human rights, then we have no comments to make.
Back to the question you have raised, how our two countries can keep our human rights differences from derailing cooperation in other areas. My answer is to respect each other, no interference, and having dialogue as equals.
Ten years ago, the United States, citing human rights above sovereignty, started intervention in countries like Syria and Libya. That was how the Arab Spring began. Now 10 years on, where is that “spring”? How many people have become refugees and lost their homes? Conflicts deprived these countries of 10 years that could have been used to develop. And those who made the intervention, were they really to protect human rights in these countries? I think they only produced human rights disasters! This is a hard lesson that must be learned. Now people seldom talk about the Arab Spring, because we’ve seen what happened – instead of a spring, there are wars, hunger and refugees. Such tragedies shall never happen again.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Let’s talk specifically about Xinjiang. It has been a flashpoint between the West and China. The American government has put sanctions on six companies in Xinjiang last year and on their exports to the U.S. Most recently in January, they put sanctions on cotton and tomato from Xinjiang. What is the impact of the sanctions on Xinjiang’s economy?
Le Yucheng: I think what matters here is not the impact of the sanctions but reasons and motives behind. The so-called “reason” for the U.S. and European sanctions on companies in Xinjiang is “forced labor”, or even “genocide”. But where is the evidence? Who is in the position to act as the judge? They first adopted the approach of name-calling, made the allegations of “forced labor” and “genocide” before putting sanctions on us, and then they said they need to come to Xinjiang for investigation and evidence collection. Isn’t this typical presumption of guilt?
The Americans might be more familiar with the concept of “forced labor”, because it actually originates from slavery. For centuries in the U.S. and European history, slaves were sold as property and mistreated, and had no dignity. When the slaves in the U.S. were forced to work, they had no personal freedom, no basic rights. And they could not own the fruits of their work. But people in Xinjiang are free to choose their job and sign work contracts according to their own will. Their rights and interests are protected. They own the fruits of their work. Plus, cotton-picking is a well-paid job for many in Xinjiang. What is more, cotton in Xinjiang is 100 percent planted and 70 percent picked by machines. There is simply no need for forced labor. The Shanghai office of the Better Cotton Initiative, a Swiss organization, issued a statement which says that in keeping with its verification principles, it has found no single case of forced labor in Xinjiang.
Those companies which have been sanctioned are registered and operate lawfully. Their staff are happy about their work. The sanctions have taken a toll on those companies as well as the livelihood of the ordinary people in Xinjiang, and disrupted to some extent the stability of the world’s cotton production and supply chains. Those who imposed the sanctions are using human rights protection and opposition to forced labor as their excuse. But what they have actually done undermines human rights in Xinjiang, adding unemployment and poverty. The real purpose behind is far from human rights protection. It is to destabilize Xinjiang and hold back China’s development. That is why many cotton farmers in Xinjiang say, “cotton flowers in Xinjiang are pure white, but the hearts of those rumor mongers and of those who imposed sanctions on us are dark.”
In recent years, I myself took several trips to Xinjiang. I could see that the region is more stable and prosperous than any time before. There have been no terrorist attacks in the last four or five years and people are living a stable and happy life. In 2019 alone, Xinjiang welcomed over 200 million Chinese and foreign visitors. More investment is coming. Stability brings prosperity. This is the major accomplishment we have made when it comes to Xinjiang’s development.
Xinjiang is open to the outside. You are all welcome to go and see. In recent years, we received over 1,200 people of various sectors from more than 100 countries to see for themselves a stable and prospering Xinjiang that enjoys harmony among ethnic groups and the freedom of religious belief. I heard that you will visit Xinjiang next week. I encourage you to see more of the region and present the image of the real Xinjiang to the world.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: I think one of the issues with Xinjiang is that it’s an issue of trust between China and the U.S., or China and Western nations. I think increasingly, Americans aren’t sure if they can trust China in a sense, as China controls information a bit more restrictively than many countries. It also seems that the UN would like to have more unfettered access to Xinjiang. It has been very difficult to agree on a visit by the UN. Even as you say that there is no forced labor, we were unable to verify, or feel confident that we can trust the information. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that issue?
Le Yucheng: The United States doesn’t trust us because it has its own calculations. It prefers to believe in the presumption of guilt. China’s Foreign Ministry and the government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have actually held many press briefings, but those in the U.S. simply choose not to believe us. Instead, they choose to believe the groundless reports by anti-China elements, stories fabricated by a handful of ETIM elements, and some “fake news” from a few Western media outlets. Disinformation can be extremely harmful. Many years ago, a package of washing powder was used as the excuse to start the war in Iraq, and a staged video the excuse for military interventions in Syria. Both were disastrous to the region. Some people simply refuse to listen, to believe, or to report the truth. This reminds me of one saying, “you can never wake up someone who pretends to be asleep.”
Xinjiang is open to the outside. We welcome everyone, including journalists, to Xinjiang, but some are unwilling to come and visit. We have invited Western diplomats to Xinjiang, but they are still reluctant to accept our invitation. I wonder what are they afraid of? We welcome them to come and visit Xinjiang, and they should come as visitors, not as investigators. We welcome friends to visit us. But if they come into the house as if this is their own place and search up and down for the so-called “evidence of crimes”, then of course they won’t be welcomed. Nor do they have the right to behave like that, do they? All foreign friends who have visited Xinjiang speak highly of our policies there. We have confidence in our work and we are not afraid of others coming to Xinjiang to have a look.
Le Yucheng: Hong Kong is part of China and our compatriots in Hong Kong are fellow Chinese. Just as a popular song in Hong Kong puts it, “I may wear suits, but my heart is still a Chinese heart” and “My Chinese identity has been imprinted on everything about me by my ancestors”. So the administration of Hong Kong follows the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR, instead of laws of any other country. Hong Kong is always China’s Hong Kong. That will not change.The Hong Kong model is One Country, Two Systems. In the past 24 years since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the One Country, Two Systems policy has achieved tremendous success. That said, questions have emerged in the administration of the SAR, especially some legislation deficiencies and loopholes. And that is why it has become imperative to improve the legislation system. In 2020, we promulgated the Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR. And this year, we made the change to the SAR’s electoral system. But the purpose is not to change the One Country, Two Systems, but to improve it and ensure the steady practice of this policy in the long run and for Hong Kong to achieve enduring stability. Twenty years later, Hong Kong will see greater stability, more prosperity and a happier life of its people. This, we believe, will be the future of Hong Kong.
The thrust in improving the electoral system is to implement the basic principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. This is not a new requirement. Actually Mr. Deng Xiaoping pointed this out even before Hong Kong’s return, and it is also in keeping with the Basic Law.
Administration by patriots is also political ethic and a common practice across the world. There are similar practices in many other countries, including in the United States. Just imagine if someone does not love the motherland or is even asking for Hong Kong independence, then how can he be qualified to take part in the administration of the Hong Kong SAR? It is impossible. I think the same would be true in the United States. You won’t allow a person who is not loyal to the country and the Constitution and not patriotic to become a congressman or woman or to serve as a cabinet member.
So those anti-China, destabilizing elements in Hong Kong are not really the so-called opposition party or “pro-democracy advocates”. They are actually separatists and rioters. Standing trials is what they deserve.
The improvement of the Hong Kong SAR’s electoral system has won support from the residents in Hong Kong. According to opinion polls, 70 percent of them support the improvement, and over 2.3 million Hong Kong residents have signed letters to express support.
Le Yucheng: Well, the Taiwan question bears on China’s core interests. There is simply no room for compromise. China firmly opposes any form of official engagement between the United States and Taiwan. Whether low-level or high-level, official engagement is what we firmly oppose. The United States should not play the “Taiwan card”. It is dangerous. The one-China principle is China’s red line. No one should try to cross it.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: I am sure you are aware that there has been some speculation or prediction in the United States that China could act sooner than thought in trying to bring Taiwan under Mainland Chinese rule. What is your comment on that? It there any timetable, in your mind, for bringing Taiwan under Mainland China or Beijing’s rule?
Le Yucheng: National reunification of China is a historical process and the tide of history. It will not be stopped by anyone or any force. We will never let Taiwan go independent. We are firmly committed to safeguarding national sovereignty and security and promoting national reunification. We are prepared to do everything we can for peaceful reunification. That said, we don’t pledge to give up other options. No option is excluded.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: So there is no timetable, and the current situation could continue to exist for many years?
Le Yucheng: Well, it’s a process of history.
Le Yucheng: To begin with, the South China Sea is over 7,000 miles away from the continental U.S., but it is at China’s doorstep. The United States has traveled long distances and come with military vessels, aircraft and weaponry. Last year alone, the United States flied military airplanes at the South China Sea for nearly 4,000 times and sailed military vessels for over 130 times. What are they here for? The South China Sea could have been peaceful and tranquil, except that the United States has been flexing military muscles and stoking discords. Navigation and overflight in normal sense is not a problem here. You asked whether the United States can come. Well, let me draw an analogy. People can pass by my doorstep. That is fine. But imagine if a person with weapons lingering at your doorstep and spying on you, time and again, without leaving, that would be a kind of provocation, harassment and threatening. Of course we are strongly opposed to that. So the crux of the matter is what the United States is doing here, not whether it can come or not.
The United States is not a party directly concerned when it comes to the South China Sea issue. China and the relevant ASEAN countries are advancing the code of conduct consultation through diplomatic channels. We hope that the United States will do more things conducive to regional stability, rather than making provocations and creating troubles, because this could cause accidents. Maintaining maritime security serves the common interests of China and the United States. We could also work together in areas such as marine development and protection.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Yet, from the U.S. government’s perspective, a lot of the land reclamation in the South China Sea in terms of China’s infrastructure development. The U.S. views that as a provocation. So how would you respond to that?
Le Yucheng: The South China Sea islands and reefs that you talked about are Chinese territory. We’ve done some construction work on our own islands and reefs in order to improve the conditions there, for better navigation safety and convenience for the ships passing by. I don’t see that as a problem.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. China’s position in the world has changed quite a bit in the last 10, 20 or 40 years. China has become economically stronger, militarily stronger. How do you see China’s foreign policy going forward? What is China trying to achieve in its foreign policy?
Le Yucheng: This year marks the centenary of the Communist Party of China. The CPC is committed to bringing happiness to the Chinese people, and contributing to the progress of humanity. China follows an independent foreign policy of peace. We are always committed to world peace and development.
Peaceful development is the cornerstone of China’s foreign policy. It has been written into the Chinese Constitution. Yes, our international standing and influence are indeed rising, which has also contributed more opportunities to the world. But certain things will not change. Our independent foreign policy of peace will not change. Our stance of seeking no hegemony, no expansion and no interference in others’ internal affairs will not change.
Indeed, we are getting better off, but arrogance and hegemonism are not who we are. In our view, a strong country is not necessarily hegemonic, but a country will decline if it seeks hegemony.
China’s pursuit of development is neither about surpassing or replacing anyone else, nor about competing for global supremacy. Rather, it is about improving Chinese people’s lives and contributing our share to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. So, the more China develops, the more we can do to share development opportunities with other countries, and to contribute more to global stability.
China was among the first countries to sign on the UN Charter. We remain firmly committed to upholding the UN-centered international system and the international order based on the UN Charter and international law.
We have noticed that President Biden’s statement that the United States has returned to multilateralism. And we hope true multilateralism will be upheld. True multilateralism means mutual acceptance and seeking common ground, rather than group politics and teaming up against others. It calls for cooperation, not confrontation and division.
The world has over 190 countries. A quadrilateral mechanism, a group of seven countries, or an alliance of a dozen countries are not multilateralism. Multilateralism should be global in scale and for all countries.
Now humanity is facing a myriad of serious challenges, including this pandemic. The world needs global cooperation, not small circles pitted against one another.
Ken Teizo Moritsugu: Let me just ask you if there is anything else that is on your mind. What I’m interested in is that even if the goals of China’s foreign policy are the same, does the strategy and the approach have to shift because of the changing world climate? Is there anything that you can tell me about what is new, what is happening, or what is changing?
Le Yucheng: Before we conclude this interview, I wish to share with you my four observations and thoughts:
First, China’s development has a promising future. In China, we have adopted the 14th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development and have set the Long-Range Goals for 2035. These represent the blueprint for China’s development in the next five years and the coming 15 years. We are striving for high-quality development and building a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and, domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. It means that China will open wider, and continue to expand, broaden and deepen opening-up at a higher level. For other countries, this would bring more development opportunities, a growing market and broader prospects for cooperation.
Second, about China’s diplomacy. We call for building a community with a shared future for mankind. We advocate a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. Mutual respect and treating each other as equals are very important. In the big family of nations, all countries stand as equals. No country is superior to others and in the position to act in a domineering way. Even less should countries be labeled as “authoritarian countries”, “failed states” or even “rogue states”. This is discriminatory and unhelpful, and goes against the principle of sovereign equality. China views all other countries as equals. We don’t look up or down on others. We view others on an equal footing.
Third, China-U.S. relations should be put back on track. We know that the Biden administration is combating COVID-19, promoting economic recovery and dealing with many other domestic priorities. COVID response and economic recovery are the two areas where China-U.S. cooperation could be critically important. I have commented on many occasions that China is not an adversary and even less an enemy for the United States. On issues such as epidemic response and development, our two countries could be teammates and partners. The United States should not mistake teammates as adversaries. With COVID-19 confronting us, it is all the more important for our two countries to work together to navigate this trying time.
Last but not least, I wish to raise some hope for friends from the media. I hope you will present to the world a truthful image of China and of the Communist Party of China (CPC). I raise this point because in recent years, there are a few journalists, from some Western countries, who are irresponsible when reporting on China. They betray their conscience and apply a gloomy filter, so to speak, in reporting on China. They write untruthful stories that defame China. This is misleading and poisonous, and misguides the decision-makers. It could pull the world into a precarious situation. What happened in Iraq, Syria and Libya are hard lessons. Tragedies shall never be allowed to happen again.
Let me also mention Edgar Snow, the American journalist. In the hard times of China’s revolutionary years, he came against all odds to Shaanxi and Gansu, the base areas of the CPC Central Committee back then, for field research and interviews. He developed close friendship with the then Chinese leaders, such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and with many Red Army soldiers and local people. It was through Mr. Snow’s reports that the world came to know the real CPC and the Red Army.
To friends from the media, I hope you will all become “Edgar Snow” in the new era. I hope you will learn more about China and, through your reporting, present the truthful images of China and of the CPC to the rest of the world.