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Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang addresses strained bilateral ties

Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang addresses strained bilateral ties
Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang addreses participants in an online address Aug. 31 sponsored by the National Committee on US-China Relations. (Photo courtesy of NCUSCR)

Qin Gang, China’s new ambassador to the United States, wants to correct three misconceptions when it comes to US-Chinese relations.

In an Aug. 31 virtual event hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations (NCUSCR) about a month after his arrival in Washington, Qin noted that this year marks half a century since the secret 1971 visit to Beiing by then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“Fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the elder generation of Chinese and American leaders showed great strategic wisdom, vision and courage. They went beyond ideological differences and reopened the door of China-US relations,” Qin said. “We have put down past grudges. Our interests have been closely entwined, and people-to-people exchanges have deepened. All this has delivered huge benefits to the two peoples.”

Speaking to an online audience that included Kissinger as well former US Trade Representative Carla Hills and former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—who is also chairman of the New York-based NCUSCR’s Board of Directors—Qin said the age of “ping-pong diplomacy” has changed the international strategic landscape, brought unprecedented growth to the Asia-Pacific region and greatly promoted world peace and prosperity.

But now, Qin said, Washington-Beiing ties face a “very severe” juncture—and he placed the blame squarely on Donald Trump.

“The extreme China policy of the previous US administration has caused serious damage to our relations, and such a situation has not changed. It is even continuing,” said Qin, 55, who is considered one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s most trusted senior diplomats. “It goes against the fundamental interests of the Chinese and American people and the wishes of the international community. Some people are trying to deny the achievements of China-US ties in the past 50 years and redefine our relations by strategic competition. They assert that the era of engagement and cooperation is over, and it must be replaced by competition and confrontation.”

Participants watch an online address Aug. 31 by Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang sponsored by the National Committee on US-China Relations. (Photo courtesy of NCUSCR)

In attempting to refute the idea that China is “betting against America,” Qin made a statement that could easily be mistaken for blatant government propaganda: “Everything the Communist Party of China does is to pursue happiness for the Chinese people.”

He continued: “China never bets its own future on other countries. We only want to surpass ourselves. We never take surpassing the US as our goal, and we never have the ambition to challenge and displace America, or to seek hegemony in the world.”

For one thing, bilateral trade in 2020 reached $580 billion, making the US China’s largest trading partner. That trade supports 2.6 million American jobs, he said, and China now ranks as the second-biggest holder of US Treasury bonds.

“We are inseparable stakeholders, and the success of one side is critical to the other,” Qin said. “We are glad to see America resolve its problems by itself, not by undercutting other countries, or by prescribing medication for others. We are glad to see America remain prosperous and strong, and make greater contribution to world peace and stability.”

A second misconception, Qin said, is that the US can win the new Cold War against China, just as it defeated the Soviet Union.

“This reflects a serious ignorance of history and China,” he said. “China is not the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s collapse was its own making. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union had been rigid, corrupt, closed to the outside world and detached from the people. It had been obsessed with arms race and external aggression. As a result, the country’s development halted. People’s lives were difficult, and they were very unhappy. When the Soviet Union collapsed, almost none of its party members stood out to say no. China has learned from this part of history that hegemonism will only lead to decline.”

US and Chinese flags fly together during the July 2008 inauguration of the massive new Chinese Embassy in Washington. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

By contrast, he claimed, “under the leadership of the CPC, China’s socialist democracy keeps improving. The people are the master of their own country.”

In another statement that may raise some eyebrows, the ambassador asserted that “China never engages in aggression or expansion. It never exports its political system or development model. It is committed to peaceful, open, cooperative and common development, and works to build a community with a shared future for mankind.”

And finally, Qin said it’s misleading to think that cooperation is being replaced by competition and confrontation.

“In fact, the need for China-US cooperation is not decreasing but increasing. Our two countries should not be enemies, but partners,” he said, noting that over 70,000 US companies have investments in China; 95% of them made profits in China last year, and 64% saw their Chinese revenues grow, according to the latest report of the US-China Business Council.

“Before I came to the US, I had discussions with the American business community in China,” he said. “They are firmly opposed to the trade war, to decoupling, and to cutting off supplies to Chinese companies. They are most worried about the uncertainty that a worsening China-US relationship may have on them.”

A serious crisis in bilateral ties appears to have been resolved, now that a Chinese technology executive held in Canada on US fraud charges has arrived back home after a deal with prosecutors. Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, was detained on fraud charges in December 2018 at the request of US authorities. The case strained China’s relations with both the United States and Canada.

Uyghur Muslims demand an independent “East Turkestan” during an April 2018 protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Qin warned: “When the US chooses to use state power to bring down Huawei, it can only expect, in the words of many Chinese, not the collapse of Huawei, but the emerging of more companies like Huawei.”

He also warned the Biden administration not to interfere with China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong and its aspirations to “unify” China with Taiwan.

“It is hoped that the US side will exercise caution on issues concerning Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Xizang and the South China Sea, respect China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and avoid touching or challenging China’s red line,” he said. “There is no room for compromise or backing down on this issue. Taiwan has been an inseparable part of China since ancient times.”

Qin ended by insisting that “COVID-19 is the real enemy” and that Washington “stop political manipulation on the origins tracing of the virus.”

“A little more than six months into this Congress, there have already been more than 260 bills with negative content on China, out of no knowledge, misunderstanding and disinformation of China, particularly the Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 and the EAGLES Act,” he said. “They underestimate the common interests between the two countries. If they become laws, they will hijack China-US relations and gravely damage America’s own interests.”

Larry Luxner

Miami native Larry Luxner, a veteran journalist and photographer, has reported from more than 100 countries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for a variety of news outlets. He lived for many years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Washington, D.C., area before relocating to Israel in January 2017. Larry has been news editor of The Washington Diplomat since 2005.