China and US should rebuild consensus: Fu Ying

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Fu Ying, chairwoman of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress(NPC) of China delivers a speech themed "China and the US, Rebuilding Consensus?" at Stanford University on May 10, 2016. (People's Daily Online/Gong Xin)

Fu Ying, chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress said that China and the United States need to build new consensus on bilateral relationship during her speech at Stanford University on Tuesday.

Fu is also the chairperson of Academic Committee of China's Institute of International Strategy. Invited by Stanford University, Fu Ying made a speech themed "China and the US, Rebuilding Consensus?" on May 10, beginning with her perception of the gap lying in real life and U.S. perspectives on the China-US relationship.

She said that Chicago University professor Mearsheimer once told her that he considered China as a revisionist in international politics, trying to drive the US out of the Western Pacific. He stated that if China continued to grow at the current speed, US-China conflict would be unavoidable. A year later, the wind seemed to blow in the direction the Professor predicted. The media is painting the South China Sea as a new geopolitical wrestling ground for our two countries. Some are even foreseeing conflict.

"However, if you look at what is happening in real life in many other fields, you see a different picture, " said Fu, "President Xi Jinping and President Obama have had lengthy meetings at least twice a year, covering wide-ranging subjects giving strong push to the relationship by initiating important cooperation programs."

China has turned into the biggest trading partner of the US on the monthly basis. Last year, nearly 5 million people travelled between our two countries. Even the two militaries which appear to have difficulties are actually engaged in more exchanges and dialogues than before.

"I was told by our consulate here that there is one flight every 16 minutes between China and the US with 15,000 people traveling a day and about 500 flights a week. On global issues such as climate change and nuclear security, the two countries' partnership is playing a leading role globally." She asked "So which is the real state of China-US relationship? Or both are real?"

There is no denying the fact that the ground is shifting in China-US relations resulted from China's fast economic growth. The need for cooperation and the impact of competition are both growing. The gap between perceptions and real life may reflect the need to rebuild consensus.

Following is the excerpt of her speech on the China-US relationship.

What are the main concerns from China and the United States?

On the American side: First, many are expressing doubts about whether “the constructive engagement” policy that 8 successive US administrations followed should continue, as it was based on the assumption that by supporting market-oriented reforms, the US would see political changes in China. Now it's not happening. So they conclude that “the constructive engagement” has failed its purposes and there need to be a new grand strategy.

Secondly, the confidence about China's economic prospect is waning as its growth is slowing down. There is concern that China's possible hard landing will spill-over and affect the US recovery. Though still attracted to the Chinese market, some US businesses are disappointed that the reform dividend is shrinking. Some scholars are citing the diverse views in the Chinese society as basis for speculations for China's reform direction.

Thirdly, there is rising anxiety about what global role China is going to play. A view often heard from the US is that China is seeking to dominate the Asia-Pacific and replace the US leadership. "This we see as a reflection of the US's own fear of losing its primacy in the world," She said.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of optimistic voices from the US. They see China's future role to be determined by its own culture and policy, as well as how it interacts with the outside world.

The Chinese academic world is relatively more positive about the relationship.

China opened its door to the world at the same pace it opened up to the US, and its policy objective for relationship with the US is in line with that of its general foreign policy, which is to constantly improve its international environment and raise the living standards of its population. It involves no desire to export values or seek world power. China has achieved its purposes and we believe the US has also gained tremendously from its relationship with China.

Secondly, the Chinese economy is undergoing difficult restructuring. China-US economic relationship has come to a higher level, and Chinese businesses have become interested in entering the US market. But they are often constrained by the lack of political confidence. China is going to host the G20 summit this September, which is hoped to open new opportunities for the two countries to work for balanced global growth.

Thirdly, the Chinese academics tend to look at changes in China-US relations from the perspective of international order. Many see the status of the relationship no longer as a weaker vis-a-vis the stronger. Nevertheless, they do not see the relationship as between two strong powers either.

In the past 30 years, we had friendly moments, but never very close; we had problems, but the tie was strong enough to avoid derailing. Now we at a high level and if work together we are capable of making a difference in the world, but if we fight, we will bring disaster onto the world.

What's the challenge facing China?

The challenge for China is probably two-fold: one is how to work with the US within the existing order framework and not fall into the traditional trap of power collision, or the Thucydides Trap, and the other is how to adapt to and participate in the adjustment in the international order.

But the message from the US is confusing, reflected in its reluctance to acknowledge China's effort to help improve the existing order by providing new public goods like the AIIB and the Belt and Road Initiative. Such remarks like: China should not be allowed to make the 21st century rules are inevitably affecting the assessment by people in China of their external environment, their future role and the relationship.

So the question is: would the US policy towards China give way to anxiety and orient towards forestalling imminent conflict? And would it lead to reckless urge to throw down the gauntlet, and stimulate spiraling tense atmosphere?

Recent tension in the South China Sea is a good reflection of the risks involved. The concern is that the US's open involvement in the disputes and its imagined contention with China may sow the seeds of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reading what is said on the US media about the South China Sea, one has the impression that the discourse is far from having solid factual ground and basic understanding of the Chinese perspective. Take for example: it is China who is trying to make new claims and coerce the neighbors. The shortage of information about the Chinese view is also to blame.

What's South China Sea issue?

The South China Sea issue is basically territorial disputes between China and some of its neighbors about some of the land features of Nansha Islands, which is one of the 4 archipelagos in the South China Sea taken back by China from Japan's occupation after WWII. There were dash lines drawn on China's map 1948 to indicate China's ownership. The US was in full knowledge and its recognition of China's sovereignty was also reflected in maps and encyclopedias published in the US even until 1971.

From the 1970s to the 1990s some of our neighbors took more than 40 islands and shoals and the discovery of oil and gas resources further spurred the drive. But China has never stopped wanting its territory back.

In the 1990s, China improved its relations with the neighbors, and worked with ASEAN to build regional frameworks from dialogue to cooperation. The Nansha disputes remained a focal issue. Through repeated dialogues, China finally accepted that there were already disputes over some of the land features, and in return the neighboring countries accepted China's proposition to “shelve the disputes and seek joint development”.

One important milestone is the conclusion of the China-ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which confirmed to solve disputes through peaceful means and to maintaining stability and it curbed the attempt to take more features in Nansha.

In the following 10 years, China faithfully followed the principles in the DOC. But ASEAN failed to constrain some of the claimants who kept high profile activities on the islands they occupied, including upgrading, renovating and expanding the facilities. After the US launched pivot to Asia, more blatant provocations to China's sovereignty happened, and there are even attempts of expanding disputes. Back in China, people are getting more and more anxious.

Let me give you one example which is almost the last straw on the camel's back. In April 2012, some Philippines' navy boats went into the Huangyan Island lagoon and harassed Chinese fishermen. When the photos of Chinese fishermen forced to stay under the blazing sun grabbed the headlines in China, there was a nationwide cry for the government to protect its citizens and defend its interests. The Philippines on its part acted as if it owned the Island, and refused to talk with the Chinese side.

China decided to control the Huangyan Island. As for the Philippines' subsequent move to unilaterally initiate an international arbitration without any consultation with China, we decided not to participate.

The real challenge for China is whether we can prevent further losses in the South China Sea and whether we are capable of protecting our interests and someday push for a peaceful negotiations of the settlement of the disputes. In light of the situation, China decided to expand some of the land features under its control. The construction includes light towers, automatic meteorological stations, ocean monitoring centers and marine science facilities. Furthermore, the functional improvements on these features will help enhance China's ability to defend its sovereignty, rights and interests as well as offer services.

The role of the US created a new dimension to the issue. The US Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy from its very start targeted at China not only in rhetoric but also in its arrangements. In China, people are convinced that the US' growing interference is making the situation in the South China Sea ever more complicated and turning what is in essence regional dispute into geo-strategic rivalry.

The ASEAN countries have come to realize the risks of power rivalry which may undermine the regional architectures they have painstakingly cultivated over the years. They have stepped up talks with China to reducing tension and to negotiating the COC aiming at a rule based order. The Chinese Foreign Minister's proposition of “dual track” approach is acknowledged and supported by many ASEAN countries. It is about having the disputes be addressed by claimants and China and ASEAN should work together to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.

What is China' policy objective?

According to the US, China is vying for dominance in the Asia-Pacific. But that, from our point of view, is projecting the US' own hegemony image on China.

China's pursuit in the South China Sea has remained consistently to safeguard national interest of territorial integrity and maintain regional peace and tranquility.

To observe China, one should not lose sight of the historical dimension. Though China is growing into a strong country, the painful memory of history is fresh. The country stumbled into the 20th century with its capital under the occupation of the imperialists' armies, and for over a century China suffered the humiliation of repeated foreign aggression and bulling. That is why the Chinese people are very sensitive about anything that is related to the loss of territorial and would never allow such recurrence even if an inch of land. This is something the outside world needs to keep in mind when trying to understand China's behavior.

Now that China is in a drive to make sure its economic target is attained and that it needs a peaceful external environment, particularly a peaceful neighborhood. The South China Sea offers the most important international transportation route which is also the lifeline for China. Our policy objective also includes to ensure freedom and safety of navigation. China needs to upgrade its capacity to better fulfill its responsibilities in this regard and achieve the purposes with the US too.

President Xi has proposed that China and the US move towards a new model of major-country relations, avoiding conflict, confrontation, respecting each other in cooperation. To achieve that we need to learn. China is a new comer on the world center stage but it should not try to copy the US. America also need to learn to work with countries like China which may be everything the US is not and may not be an ally, but it is should not be an enemy either.

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