China-US Presidential Meeting: Setting Direction and Providing Impetus for Bilateral Relations – Transcript of Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng’s Interview with the Press

Q1: This is the first ever virtual meeting between the Chinese and U.S. Presidents, and the two leaders had quite a long discussion. Did the meeting achieve its objective?

A: On the morning of 16 November, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, had a virtual meeting with U.S. President, Joe Biden. This is the first ever virtual meeting between the two heads of state in the history of China—U.S. relations. It has great significance for both China—U.S. bilateral ties and international relations. The meeting lasted for three and a half hours, from 8: 45 a.m. to around 12:25 p.m. Beijing time, longer than scheduled. The two sides had an extensive exchange of views on the strategic, overarching and fundamental issues in China—U.S. relations, on their respective development agenda and domestic and foreign policies, and on international and regional issues of mutual interest. It was a candid, in-depth, constructive and fruitful meeting. Under the current circumstances, it is crucial that the two Presidents take the helm for the China—U.S. relationship. The meeting has chartered the course and provided impetus for China—U.S. relations to develop going

forward.

Q2: The meeting has covered major strategic issues about the future of China-U.S. relations and important issues of shared interest and concern. Could you tell us more details about what has been discussed? Any consensus reached?

A: The meeting can be recapped by a set of figures, 3, 4, 2, and 1. To be specific, President Xi put forward three principles and four priority areas for growing China—U.S. relations; the two Presidents reached two principled common understandings, President Xi Jinping worked on the U.S. side on one important question.

On the three principles. At the meeting, President Xi pointed out the right way for China and the United States to get along in the new era: First, mutual respect. The two sides need to respect each other’s social systems and development paths, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and respect each other’s right to development. They need to treat each other as equals, keep differences under control, and seek common ground while reserving differences.

Second, peaceful coexistence. No conflict and no confrontation is a line that both sides must hold. Third, win-win cooperation. The interests of China and the United States are deeply intertwined.

The world is big enough for our two countries to develop individually and collectively. The right thing to do is to choose mutual benefit over zero-sum game or the I—win—you—lose approach.

On the four priority areas, President Xi identified at the meeting four areas where China and the United States should focus their efforts on. First, shouldering responsibilities of major countries and leading global response to outstanding

challenges. China—U.S. cooperation may not solve all problems, but few problems can be solved without it. The global initiatives China has proposed are open to the United States, and we hope the same is true for initiatives from the United States.

Second, acting in the spirit of equality and mutual benefit to move forward exchanges at all 

levels and in all areas and generate more positive energy for China-U.S. relations. The two

Presidents have stayed in close contact through meetings, letters and phone calls, chartering the course for bilateral relations. The two countries, with broad common interests in a wide range of areas including economy, energy, mil-to-mil, law-enforcement, education, science and technology, cyber, environmental protection and sub-national cooperation, may draw on what each other has to offer and make the cake bigger for China-U.S. cooperation. Our two sides could fully harness the channels and mechanisms of dialogue between our diplomatic and security, economy, trade and finance, and climate change teams, in an effort to advance practical cooperation and resolve specific issues.

Third, managing differences and sensitive issues in a constructive way to prevent China-U.S. relations from getting derailed or out of control. It is only natural for our two countries to have differences. What matters is to manage differences in a constructive manner and prevent them from getting magnified or escalated. China stands firm in defending its sovereignty, security and development interests. It is important that the United States handle the relevant issues with prudence.

Fourth, strengthening coordination and cooperation on major international and regional hotspot issues to provide more public goods to the world. In a world that is still not peaceful, China and the United States need to work together with the rest of the international community to defend world peace, promote global development, and safeguard a  fair and equitable international order.

On the two principled common understandings,both Presidents underscored the importance of China-U.S. relations. President Xi noted the importance of the China—U.S. relationship to the two countries and beyond the bilateral scope to the whole world. We have no alternative but to get it right, and we cannot mess it up. A sound and steady China-U.S. relationship is required for advancing our two country’s respective development, and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment. Our two sides need to increase communication and cooperation, each manage our domestic affairs well and, at the same time, shoulder our share of international responsibilities in order to take China—U.S. relations forward in a positive direction, and work together to advance the noble cause of world peace and development. Doing so will advance the interests of our two peoples and meet the expectation of the international community.

President Biden said that how U.S.—China relations evolve has a profound impact not only on the two countries, but also on the rest of the world. The two countries have a responsibility to the world as well as to the two peoples. The two sides must not mess up the relationship, and the United States has no objective to change China’s system. He noted the need for the two sides to respect each other, have peaceful co-existence, enhance communication, reduce  misunderstandings and handle differences in a constructive way.

Both Presidents expressed that their opposition to a “new Cold War” and that China and the United States should not have conflict or confrontation. China rejects a  new Cold War” in whatever form. And President Biden has also made it clear at the UN General Assembly that, the United States would not seek a “new Cold War”. All countries, including U.S. allies, are unwilling to return to the old path of  Cold War or  to  choose sides between China and the United States. At the meeting, President Xi said that drawing ideological lines or dividing the world into different camps or rival groups will only make the world suffer. The U.S. side needs to meet its word of not seeking a   new Cold War” with concrete actions, and play a constructive and uniting role in the Asia-Pacific. President Biden noted that the U.S. revitalization of its alliances is not anti-China, and that the United States’ objective is not to have a conflict with China. The immediate priority is for the two sides to have candid, extensive and substantive dialogues in this relationship, and make sure that competition between the two countries is healthy and does not veer into conflict.

Q3: Could I assume that the “one important question” you mentioned in the end must be the Taiwan question? Tensions are rising again in the cross-Straits relations. This is a matter of concern for every Chinese. On the Taiwan question, the United States has repeatedly interfered in China’s internal affairs and stepped on China’s red lines, much to the dislike of the Chinese people.

A: Promoting national reunification and safeguarding territorial integrity is the shared will and firm resolve of all Chinese people. The Taiwan question has always been the most important and sensitive issue in China—U.S. relations, and a fixed topic for every discussion between our Presidents.  At this meeting, President Xi Jinping pointed out that the one-China principle and the three China—U.S. Joint Communiques are the political foundation of China-U.S. relationship. Successive U.S. administrations have made clear commitments on this question. In the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 and the three joint

communiques, the true status quo of the Taiwan question and what lies at the heart of one China have been articulated in clear-cut terms, i.e. there is but one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing China.

Achieving China’s complete reunification is an aspiration shared by all sons and daughters of the Chinese nation. We will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and efforts. That said, should the separatist forces for Taiwan independence make provocations, force our hands or even cross the red line, we will be compelled to take resolute measures. On this question of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no room for China to back down.

President Biden reiterated at the meeting that the United States abides by the one-China policy and does not support Taiwan independence”.

On the question of Taiwan, I have a few more words to say. As you said, the Chinese people are very unhappy about the recent wrongful words and actions by the U.S. side, which were attempts to misrepresent and obscure the one—China policy. The Chinese government has made serious representations to the U.S. side for multiple times. The meaning and connotations of one China are clear, legally and politically. They are reflected in the three joint communiques and the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, which are official international agreements and documents with legal effect. They should not be altered, distorted or negated. The UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 has made it clear that “the representatives of the Government of the Peoples Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the UN”. The Office of Legal Affairs of the UN Secretariat, in a number of legal opinions following the resolution, has also confirmed that, “the United Nations considers ‘Taiwan’ as a province of China with no separate status”, and the “authorities’ in Taipei’  are not considered to enjoy any form of government status”. The three Sino-U.S. Joint Communiques say in black and white that,“The United States of America recognises the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, and acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China”. The United States should adhere to the  official bilateral agreements reached with China and resolutions adopted with overwhelming majority at the UN General Assembly, respect the fact that most countries uphold and stand for the one-China principle. The U.S. side is expected to change its course and take steps to win the trust of the Chinese people as well as the international community.

Q4: The rest of the world is very concerned about risk management in China-U.S. relations. The United States has talked about risk management many times, stressing the need for making the rules of the road or “guardrails” in the bilateral relationship. What is China’s view? The United States is frequently talking about competition with China. What is China’ s response?

A: President Xi Jinping said that China is willing to discuss with the U.S. side effective risk

management on the basis of mutual respect. The high levels of the two sides, and the departments of foreign affairs and national defense, among others, need to keep and increase communication. That said, it is important to have the resolve to prevent and avert crises, and remove their root causes. That would bring fundamental solutions.

As for competition, President Xi Jinping pointed out that cooperation should be prioritized.

Cooperation may involve areas of competition, such as the economic field, but

competition must be fair and healthy, conducive to respective and common development.

Let me draw an analogy: putting out fire is certainly important, but fire prevention is equally important. So, inflammables and explosives shall be removed whenever they are spotted.

Importantly, whether it is making rules for competition or installing guardrails for a

relationship, it should be done through consultation on equal footing, agreed and adhered to by both sides, rather than one side imposing conditions or demands on the other.

Q5: Since the start of this year, values have often been made an issue by the U.S. side, and a

“Leaders’ Summit for Democracy” will be held before the end of this year. Did the two sides talk about this summit during the meeting?

A: President Xi Jinping said at the meeting that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all product that has only one model or configuration for the whole world. Whether a country is democratic or not should be judged by its own people. Dismissing forms of democracy that are different from one’s own is in itself undemocratic. We are

willing to have dialogues on human rights on the basis of mutual respect, but we oppose using human rights to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and maritime issues concern China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and core interests, and are close to the hearts of the Chinese people. On these questions, China has no room to back down. The United States should respect China’s interests and concerns, and handle the relevant issues in a prudent and proper way.

Let me also say that China advocates peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are common values of humanity. Democracy is not a slogan to be chanted, but requires concrete actions. The key criteria is whether it benefits the people and has people’s support.

Q6: We know that both Chinese and U.S. Presidents care a lot about climate change. Was this issue covered at this virtual meeting?

A: Climate change is a common concern of the international community, and an important area of China—U.S. cooperation. At the meeting, President Xi Jinping recalled China-U.S.

cooperation that brought about the Paris Agreement on climate change. A few days ago, the two sides issued their second joint declaration about climate change.  As both countries are transitioning to green and low carbon economy, climate change can well become a new highlight of cooperation.

Needless to say, cooperation on climate change is inseparable from the broader climate of

China-U.S. relations, and thus requires efforts from both sides to foster an enabling atmosphere. Since last year, China has announced its goals of carbon peak and carbon neutrality, and then its decision of not building new coal-fired power projects abroad. This means that China will use the shortest time in history to realize the world’s biggest cut in carbon emission intensity, a task that will take extraordinary efforts. China is still the biggest developing country in the world.

All countries need to uphold the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and

strike a balance between climate change response and livelihood protection. What the world needs is less finger-pointing or blame game, but more solidarity and cooperation. Promises matter, but actions matter even more. Developed countries need to earnestly fulfil their historical responsibilities and obligations, and maintain consistency in their policies.

Q7: COVID-19 is still ravaging the world and the world economy is struggling to recover. Mankind faces multiple crises. Did the two Presidents talk about possibilities of cooperation to address the crises?

A: Emerging from the shadow of the pandemic, achieving recovery and stability, and overcoming the various risks and challenges are shared aspirations of the international community. President Xi Jinping has stressed on many occasions China’s readiness to work with all sides in the spirit of solidarity at trying times.

At the meeting, President Xi pointed out that the pandemic once again proves that humanity lives in a community wih a shared future. There is no higher priority than putting people’s lives first. Solidarity and cooperation are the most powerful weapons for the international community to defeat COVID—19. Response to epidemics must be based on science. Politicizing health issues does no good but great harm. The pressing priority in the global COVID response is to address the vaccine deficits and close the vaccination gap.

At the early stage of the pandemic, China suggested making COVID vaccines a global public good. Recently we have raised a Global Vaccine Cooperation Action Initiative. China is among the first to offer vaccines to developing countries in need, delivering over 1.7 billion doses of finished and bulk vaccines to the world. In the course of this year, the vaccines we will provide to the international community may exceed two billion doses. On top of its US$100 million donation to COVAX, China has announced a donation of another 100 million doses of COVID vaccines to developing countries within this year. And we will consider making additional donations in light of the needs of developing countries, the least developed ones in particular.

To get better prepared in the future, China and the United States should advocate the establishment of a cooperation mechanism for global public health and communicable disease prevention and control, and step up prevention against communicable diseases such as influenza. The two countries may also conduct exchanges and cooperation in areas such as the monitoring of COVID pandemic, research on scientific bottlenecks, disease prevention and treatment, and vaccination.

Q8: Did the two Presidents discuss regional and international hot spot issues at the meeting?

A: The two Presidents exchanged views on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and Afghanistan, among other regional and international issues of mutual interest.

President Xi pointed out that China and the United States need to uphold the international system with the United Nations at its center, the international order based on international law, and the basic norms governing international relations underpinned by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. A multilateralism without China-U.S. cooperation or the participation of either would be incomplete and unrealistic.

I wish to stress here that China is willing to enhance cooperation on the relevant issues on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. China will continue to play a positive role on the relevant issues and make its own efforts. At the same time, we call upon the U.S. side to play a constructive role, actively respond to, take seriously and address reasonable concerns of parties concerned, and shoulder its due responsibilities and obligations.

Q9: You said that the two Presidents also exchanged views on the domestic development agenda. In China, we have just had the sixth Plenary Session of the 19th  CPC  Central Committee, a big event that has drawn a lot of attention. Did the two Presidents talk about this?

A: At the meeting, President Xi shared with President Biden, in the context of the sixth Plenum, the major accomplishments and historical experience of the CPC in the past 100 years. President Xi said that over the past centenary, the CPC has kept to its founding aspiration and mission, namely to strive for the happiness of the Chinese people and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We have accomplished a lot in that direction, and we will continue to do more. Our people’s aspiration for a better life is what the Party strives for.  Serving the 1.4 billion Chinese people and working with them for a better life is my great honor and a great responsibility, and I shall put aside my own well-being and live up to people’s expectations,” said President Xi. Our people’s aspiration for a better life is the biggest internal driver for China’s development and an inevitable trend of history. Any attempt to stop this historical trend will be rejected by the Chinese people, and will by no means succeed.

President Xi also reiterated China’s unwavering determination to open wider at a high standard, to share development opportunities with the rest of the world, and to make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial for all. China is talking about a new development paradigm for the purpose of expanding domestic market, fostering a combination of domestic and international circulations with greater scope and scale, and building a business environment that is more market-oriented, law-based and up to international standard. All this will provide a bigger market and greater opportunities to the United States and other countries.

Q10: How will this meeting shape the future of China-U.S. relations? Do both sides have any

arrangement for the two Presidents to meet in person sometime in future?

A: This meeting, held at a crucial moment, is an occasion for the two Presidents to once again set the direction for this relationship and will have significant and far-reaching impact for China-U.S. relations. President Xi and President Biden agreed to keep in touch by multiple means. We are open to all forms of communication between the two Presidents, including an in-person meeting. We will let things take their natural course. What matters is to move in the same direction and foster a favorable atmosphere for the meeting to generate good outcomes.

If the China—U.S. relationship cannot go back to what it was in the past, then it must move

toward the future. China has no illusion. But we have confidence, and will continue to stay the course. We are open to all options that can take this relationship forward. That said, we also have our principles, in short, the three principles put forward by President Xi Jinping today: mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.

The China-US relationship stands at a crossroads. We hope that the United States will work with China, follow the spirit of the two Presidents’ meeting with concrete actions, maintain dialogue and communication, strengthen exchanges and cooperation and manage differences in a responsible way, so as to promote sound and stable development of China — U.S. relationship.

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