Remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace China Conference
Secretary of State
And I want to thank everyone at the U.S. Institute of Peace, especially Richard Solomon, who knows China well from his days as Policy Planning Director and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. And it’s a special delight, Richard, to be visiting this beautiful building for the first time. And Tara, I want to thank you and if the Senate so agrees, we are very much looking forward to Tara joining us at the State Department. So thank you so very much.
I also particularly want to recognize all the members of the Nixon-Cox families. And Tricia, thank you, because you’re absolutely right; there is a bond that is hard to describe to those who have not lived through the incredible honor and challenge of being part of a first family. But I have such great appreciation for what you and your sister have done that has really bestowed great honor on your parents. And this is not only the anniversary of your father’s trip to China but also of your mother’s, and I think that is worth reminding us.
I want to thank Ron Walker and everyone with the Richard Nixon Foundation, the members of Congress, ambassadors who have joined us, including the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Zhang. Thank you so much for being here.
The events of that remarkable week in 1972 have been studied, analyzed, debated, reenacted on stage and screen, even commemorated in song. And yet, there is still more to be said about that journey to Beijing and the relationship it set into motion—and how we, who are the great beneficiaries of that work 40 years ago, are cultivating the relationship so it meets the challenges and seizes the opportunities of this time.
And I want to begin by saluting all who contributed to President Nixon’s journey, to all the subsequent milestones in the U.S.-China relationship. And I know that during the day you have been fortunate in hearing from some of the master architects of those early years, including Henry Kissinger, who extended that first handshake to Zhou Enlai in 1971 and continues to speak and write eloquently about China today; Zbig Brzezinski, who oversaw the normalization of relations during the Carter Administration; Brent Scowcroft, who I see there appropriately in the front row, who skillfully managed the tumultuous period during the Tiananmen Square protests; Win Lord, the young note taker at the Nixon meetings who later became our ambassador to China.
I also salute the Foreign Service officers and civil servants who worked behind the scenes. I’ve learned a lot about that as Secretary of State. Those of us who are out front are only out front because of all the work that has been done to lay the groundwork. And for that trip in particular, I want to recognize Stape Roy, one of the renowned “missionary kids” who later served as ambassador; Jeff Bader, who went to China in 1981 and became a caretaker of our China policy for the next three decades; Chas Freeman, the interpreter for President Nixon’s talks with Mao who later became our deputy chief of mission in Beijing.
There are those who aren’t with us—including Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was the youngest ever Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Jim Lilley, who expertly served as our ambassador to China during the challenging events of 1989 and after.
And the journalists who traveled with President Nixon and covered every angle of his time there, including Ted Koppel, who I see in the audience. Thanks to them, people across our country were able to follow President Nixon at every step.
Now, I was a law student in 1972. I was a poor law student. I did not own a television set. But I was not about to miss history being made, so I rented one – a portable model with those rabbit ears. I lugged it back to my apartment and tuned in every night to watch scenes of a country that had been blocked from view for my entire life. Like many Americans, I was riveted and proud of what we were accomplishing through our president.
President Nixon called it “the week that changed the world.” Well, if anything, that turned out to be an understatement.
Then, the People’s Republic of China was profoundly isolated. Poverty was pervasive. The Cultural Revolution had banished nearly all foreigners, as well as foreign businesses, foreign books, even foreign ideas. When President Nixon’s motorcade drove through Beijing, the American delegation noted how eerily silent the city was. Now there were people everywhere, but there was hardly a sound.
Yet within a few short decades, China has become the second largest economy in the world. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty and have joined the global economy. Beijing, Shanghai and other cities have turned into noisy, fast-paced, 24-hour centers of commerce and culture. The 2008 Olympics and the 2010 Expo were very successful coming out parties. And China, a rising geopolitical power, has a seat at virtually every table and a role in virtually every institution of importance in the world.
So there is no doubt that the China of today is a very different country from the China of 1972. Now that transformation is due, first and foremost, to the hard work and determination of the Chinese people and their leaders. It was encouraged, however, by people around the world who supported and invested in their progress. And it can also be traced back in a straight line to that week 40 years ago.
Before Air Force One was wheels down in Beijing, China was firmly on the outside of the international order. That visit was the start of China coming in. And since then, China has worked to move beyond its isolation of that time to engage more cooperatively with other nations, and those efforts have delivered great benefits to the Chinese people. And now, completing that journey is essential if China is to cement its newfound standing and build upon the extraordinary gains it has made.
Whether it does has profound implications, not only for China, but for the United States and the world. Because it’s not just China that’s been transformed during the past 40 years; the U.S.-China relationship has as well.
In 1972, our countries were connected only through a narrow official channel – one member of government talking to another. Today, the web of connections linking our nations is vast and complex, and reaches into just about every aspect of our societies. Our economies are tightly entwined. And so is our security. We face shared threats like nuclear proliferation, piracy, and climate change, and we need each other to solve these problems. The opportunities before us are also shared, and they define our relationship much more than the threats. So therefore, we have the chance, if we seize it, to work together to advance prosperity, pursue innovation, and improve the lives of our people and others worldwide.
Now when I say “we,” I do not mean only our governments, as important as they are. Every day, across both of our countries, executives and entrepreneurs, scientists and scholars, artists and athletes, students and teachers, family members and citizens of all kinds shape and pull and add to this relationship. Together, they represent a vast range of priorities, concerns, and points of view. And they are all stakeholders in how we build toward a shared future. Engaging their talents, ideas and energies makes the U.S.-China relationship far deeper and more durable than anything our governments could do on our own.
It’s like that television I rented in 1972. Back then, we had just a few channels to choose from. In fact, as I vaguely remember, we had three broadcast channels and I guess by that time, we might have had public broadcasting, although I’m not quite sure. Today, there are something like 900 channels and more to come. The channels between China and us have multiplied at an astronomical rate.
But there are challenges that come with a relationship this consequential and this personal to so many. It does get bound up in our domestic politics, yes, in both countries. The United States and China both have politics, you know. People’s voices are heard in ways they weren’t or couldn’t have been heard in years past. This political dimension presents complications for both sides, which makes it that much more important that we ensure our partnership delivers results.
All this adds up to a very different kind of relationship than the one we had. We’ve gone from being two nations with hardly any ties to speak of, little bearing on each other, to being thoroughly, inescapably interdependent. For two nations with long traditions of independence, deeply rooted in our cultures and our histories, these are unusual circumstances to say the least. They require adjustments in our thinking and our actions, on both sides of the Pacific. And so, how do we respond to what is not just a new challenge to our two countries, but I would argue, an unprecedented challenge in history?
Back in 1972, the U.S.-China project was, in many ways, a signature 20th century diplomatic endeavor embedded in the context of the Cold War, focused on establishing official ties and laying the groundwork for peaceful engagement, and building a basic understanding of each other. Well, the U.S.-China project of 2012 is something altogether different; indeed, it is unprecedented in the history of nations. The United States is attempting to work with a rising power to foster its rise as an active contributor to global security, stability and prosperity while also sustaining and securing American leadership in a changing world. And we are trying to do this without entering into unhealthy competition, rivalry, or conflict; without scoring points at each other’s expense and thereby souring the relationship; and without falling short on our responsibilities to the international community. We are, together, building a model in which we strike a stable and mutually acceptable balance between cooperation and competition. This is uncharted territory. And we have to get it right, because so much depends on it.
After three years of intensive engagement, and the successes and frustrations that have come with it, we are clear-eyed about the obstacles that still remain. There are, understandably so, difficult questions that we must answer, and misconceptions we must address. For example, here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, there are those who make the case – maybe it was made today – that a rising China signals bad news, that as China grows more prosperous and wields greater international power, our relationship will automatically turn adversarial, or the United States will inevitably experience decline as a result. Now meanwhile, some in China fear that the United States is determined to contain their rise and limit their progress to advance our interests at their expense.
And there still remains suspicion and mistrust of the other’s intentions, particularly in the military realm. As Dr. Kissinger recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Both sides must understand the nuances by which apparently traditional and apparently reasonable courses can evoke the deepest worries in each other.” We must address this head-on and constructively by creating a framework for building trust over time. That means returning to first principles of the relationship: There is no intrinsic contradiction between supporting a rising China and advancing America’s interests. A thriving China is good for America, and a thriving America is good for China.
That’s why we helped break China’s isolation in 1972, and it’s why, for more than 60 years, we have underwritten regional peace and security that helped make room for China’s extraordinary economic progress; we have championed China’s inclusion in international fora like the WTO; we have elevated the G-20 as a forum for international engagement, in part because China plays a key role in it; at Copenhagen and subsequent climate summits, we made cooperation with China a priority; on issue after issue, we have not only welcomed, we have advocated for China’s participation and we have called for its leadership.
So to those who ask, “Is the United States attempting to contain China?” Our answer is a clear no. In fact, the United States helped pave the way for China to be where it is today in its own development. We are a country that welcomes others’ success, because we believe that it’s good for everyone when people anywhere are able to work their way to better lives. If China’s rise means that we have an increasingly capable and engaged partner, that’s good news for us. And we will seize every chance to engage, because we’re not a country that sits on our lead. We’re a country with confidence in our own standing and in our ability to compete and succeed.
The choices that America has made diplomatically, economically, and strategically reflect that fundamental belief. But of course, to say that a thriving China is good for America, and vice versa, is not the end of the story, because as we all know, there are different ways for countries to get ahead. And for China, for everyone, success must be achieved responsibly; that is not at the expense of others, but in a way that contributes to the regional and global good.
And this is where China has its own choices to make. Its power, wealth, and influence have pushed it rapidly to a new echelon in the international order. What China says and does reverberates around the globe, and simply by changing itself, China affects the world around it. At the same time, it is still working on its great economic mission, bringing development to millions more of the Chinese people. My Chinese counterparts often talk to me in passionate terms about how far their country still has to go. So China is faced with the complicated task of balancing the demands of development with its responsibilities as an emerging global power, or as my Chinese friends sometimes say, a reemerging global power, because of course China has hundreds, thousands of years of history as an influential nation and culture.
And I’ve pointed out to my counterparts China’s response at times has been to seek to have it at both ways, acting like what I call a selective stakeholder. In some forums, on some issues, China wants to be treated as a great power; in others, as a developing nation. That’s perfectly understandable, because China has attributes of both. Nonetheless, the world is looking for China to play a role that is commensurate with its new standing. And that means it can no longer be a selective stakeholder.
Now, I’m well aware that debates about the rise of China and other emerging powers, and they usually start and too often stop with people simply saying, “With great power comes great responsibility” – I think that is a quote from the movie Spiderman, if I remember – (laughter) – and just leaving it at that. Well, it is worth pushing ourselves further on what this really means in action on a pragmatic, day-to-day basis.
Well, for starters, the link between power and responsibility is built into the logic of global politics. As countries become more powerful, their stake in the success of the international system naturally rises, because they have more to lose when that system fails. At the same time, the world’s expectations of them naturally rise as well, because they have more to contribute to strengthen the system. But more than this, it is understandable that the international community wants some confidence that a country’s growing power will be used for the benefit of all. And given the historic challenges to security and stability posed by rising powers, they do have a special obligation to demonstrate in concrete ways that they are going to pursue a constructive path. This is particularly true for a country that has grown as rapidly and as dramatically as China has.
Ultimately, because emerging powers have such a large and growing impact, allowing them to selectively pick and choose elements of the rules-based international system that may on a short-term basis suit their interests would render the system unworkable. And that would end up impoverishing everyone. Having said that, the international system is not static. Rules and institutions designed for an earlier age may not be suited to today. So we need to work together to adapt and update them. Indeed, we have already begun that work. On issues like trade and climate, efforts to develop new norms and mechanisms are well underway. We have no interest in holding onto elements of the system that have become irrelevant, or unsuited to the challenges of our time, or that work only to benefit some countries and not others. That would give countries incentives to walk away from cooperation and go it alone, which would not serve them or us.
But there are principles that we know work. And we cannot afford to abandon them, like maintaining an economic order that is open, free, transparent, and fair; pursuing security in a manner that is measured and transparent to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts; and promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, which do reflect universal values and the inherent dignity of all humankind. China has already shown increased leadership on some regional and global issues, like countering piracy and sustaining the global economic recovery. It has also contributed substantially to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, and we applaud these steps. But we do believe China will have to go further to fully embrace its new role in the world to give the world confidence that it is going to, not just today or on one set of issues, but for the long run, play a positive role that will enhance security, stability, and prosperity.
So the world is looking to China and asking questions like these: Will China adapt its foreign policy so it contributes more to solving regional and global problems to make it possible for others to succeed as well? Will it use its power to help end brutal violence against civilians in places like Syria? Will it explain its military buildup and the ultimate goals of its military strategies, policies, and programs to relieve unease, to reassure its neighbors, to avoid misunderstandings, and to contribute to maintaining regional security? Will it uphold international maritime laws and norms, which for decades have made it possible for nations to engage in peaceful trade? Will it work more vigorously to establish international standards in cyberspace, so the internet works for everyone and so people in China and elsewhere can harness its economic and social benefits? And will it use its economic standing to enforce a rules-based system for global trade and investment so it can advance its own economic development while contributing to global growth?
As economic partners, we can make it possible for more people in both countries to work, trade, invest, create, and prosper. Whether we do or not depends on how we deal with some of our differences. China has things it wants, including more opportunities to invest in the United States, and we have things we want, including an end to discrimination against U.S. companies and protection for their intellectual property; an end to unfair preferences for domestic firms; and more opportunities for American goods, products and services; and of course, an end to what we see as unfair, distorting currency practices.
We want to engage in more trade and investment with China, because we believe in the benefits that come with greater economic activity and healthy competition. But for it to be healthy, it has to be fair, rules-based and transparent. So we will continue to work with China to urge it to make reforms, and we, in turn, will hear and act on those changes it wants from us.
Finally, we do ask, can China meet its obligations to protect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms? Now, this is an area in which we have had long and profound disagreements. And even as our two countries become more interdependent, the United States will, of course, continue to stand by our principles and universal standards of human rights. And we believe that with development comes an opportunity for the aspirations of people everywhere to express themselves freely, whether on the Internet, or in a public square, or on the factory floor. And so like people everywhere, we do believe that the Chinese people have their own legitimate aspirations, and we do believe that everyone should have a legal system that is independent and will protect them from arbitrary action. And we do believe, not just in China but everywhere, in religious and linguistic differences, cultural differences being respected. Reforms that support these goals give people a greater stake in the success of their nations, which in turn makes societies more stable, prosperous and peaceful.
Now, questions like these are the kind that we kick around all the time with our Chinese counterparts. And I personally am very grateful for the open, candid dialogues that we have been holding for the last three years. We have the greatest respect for what China has accomplished in 40 years, and we want to see those accomplishments continue to build into the future.
I think that our outreach to China during the past three years has been a continuation of a bipartisan tradition that every president since President Nixon has upheld. We consult on every single issue of significance; not a day goes by when our governments are not in touch. In this Administration, we’ve launched our Strategic and Economic Dialogue and a Strategic Security Dialogue, and we’ve had intensive discussions on just about every issue you can imagine, from trade policy to counterterrorism to human rights to border security. Each of our countries has hosted multiple high-level visits from the other. Our presidents have met in person more than 10 times. And later this year, in May, I’ll make my sixth trip to China as Secretary of State.
All of this effort has taken place within a larger regional push to strengthen our ties throughout the Asia Pacific. We’ve enhanced our relationships with our treaty allies Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. We’ve broadened our relationships with other emerging powers, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore. We’ve strengthened our unofficial relationship with Taiwan. We’ve reengaged with Burma. We’ve invested in regional multilateral institutions, including the East Asia Summit and ASEAN. We’ve increased our economic engagement, updated our regional military posture and amplified our advocacy for the rule of law and universal human rights. In short, we are working around the clock to do everything we can to defend and advance security and prosperity throughout the Asia Pacific. And having that positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship with China is vital to every one of those objectives.
So we are committed to this partnership. And now, we and others around the world are looking for even greater leadership from China. China and the United States cannot solve all the problems of the world together. But without China and the United States, I doubt that any of our global problems can be solved. We want China to be a full stakeholder, embracing its role as a major global player, to helping strengthen the international system that makes its own and our success possible. All the while, we will continue to seek every opportunity for engagement with China, but not just at the government-to-government level. We will keep discussing our differences openly, developing as many avenues for cooperation as we possibly can. In short, we will continue the journey begun by many in this room 40 years ago.
In 1972, when President Nixon disembarked in Beijing and shook Zhou Enlai’s hand, the premier said, “Your handshake came over the vastest ocean in the world, 25 years of no communication.” A few days later, President Nixon toasted his hosts and said, “The Great Wall is a reminder that for almost a generation there has been a wall between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America. In these past four days we have begun the long process of removing that wall.” Both sides were taking a risk. But they decided that engagement was worth it. They knew that if the summit went smoothly, the conversation between our two countries would continue, and that would lead to cooperation, and that in time we both would benefit from it.
That is precisely what has happened. Nearly everything that China and the United States disagreed about before that trip, we disagreed about after the trip. But we began a conversation that has helped us mitigate our differences and broaden those areas on which we agree. And the result is the relationship we have today, as consequential and multifaceted as any in the world.
We are now trying to find an answer, a new answer to the ancient question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet. We need a new answer. We don’t have a choice. Interdependence means that one of us cannot succeed unless the other does as well. We need to write a future that looks entirely different from the past. This is, by definition, incredibly difficult. But we have done difficult things before.
I wish that all of the leaders from 40 years ago could have been with me when I visited the U.S.A. Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. I’m very proud to be called the mother of the U.S.A. Pavilion by our Chinese friends. And what was most striking to me is that we had invited young Americans who were studying Chinese to be the guides and the hosts at our pavilion. And many of the Chinese people who had come from around that vast and magnificent country were stunned to be greeted by Hispanic children, African American, Asian American, Caucasian, every kind of person that we have in the United States speaking to them in their language. And the incredible connections that were being made as people were asking questions, telling jokes, recounting where they had come from was as strong an endorsement of the courageous step taken 40 years ago as any that I personally have seen. But it also was a reminder that we do the work we do as secretaries of state or as presidents or premiers or foreign ministers – we do that work because we all have to be committed to making a better future for those young people, that we are the stewards of their future in terms of the kind of opportunities that they will enjoy.
So let us remember and take inspiration from how far apart our countries were when President Nixon landed in Beijing and how much we have accomplished together since then. It is irrefutable proof of the progress that is possible when people work together to overcome their differences and find common ground not only for their own good, but for others’. It is now up to us to make sure that the future is even more promising than the past. Thank you very much. (Applause.)