Transcript of Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng's Exclusive Interview with Guancha.cn
Q1. Let me start with COVID-19, the burning issue of the day. As the virus continues to rage on and is likely to stay around, people worry that the world will never return to the old days. How do you view the major changes in the post-pandemic world?
No one expected that the pandemic could last this long, affect so many, and cause so much devastation. This further shows the profoundness and complexity of the major changes in the world unseen in a century. The world we live in has been thoroughly changed by this microscopic virus. People have to wear masks and get tested frequently, and they are witnessing the coming of a post-COVID era. The days without wearing masks and the spur-of-the-moment trips seem to get distant and unreal.
The pandemic has taught us many lessons. First, human beings are fragile. Our world has been turned upside down by this microbe, yet we are still short of effective cures. The United States, as technologically advanced and powerful as it is, has seen over 600,000 lives lost in the pandemic, more than World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined. Second, the world is becoming more and more interdependent. We are now at the threshold of an era of the Internet of Everything. Everyone is living in an invisible network, connected with and dependent on each other. No country can resolve all problems by itself or stay aloof. Third, in this ever-changing world, human beings should not remain trapped in old habits. People should not play with smartphones in their hands but at the same time think about decoupling or another Cold War in their minds, and still less use new technologies as new tools against others or new weapons for war. All in all, the pandemic has further proved that humankind is an increasingly close community with a shared future where we all rise or sink together. The 193 member states of the United Nations are no longer like 193 boats as they used to be, but 193 sailors in the same boat. They may have different skin colors, nationalities or faiths, and may even butt heads with one another, but they do share one common mission - steer the ship in the right direction and make sure it does not go sideways, capsize and least of all, sink.
How should major countries get along with each other in the post-pandemic era?
At this historic juncture with changes unseen in a century, what major countries choose to do is critically important. In fact, the answer to your question can be found in General Secretary Xi Jinping's important speech at the ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The major countries should choose cooperation instead of confrontation, opening up instead of closing their doors, and seeking mutual benefits instead of zero-sum games. We often say that a major country should act like one. A major country is not about stronger arms, hotter temper, or meddling in others' stuff. It is about magnanimity, greater responsibility, and bigger contributions.
For example, our relations with Russia have endured the test of the pandemic and all the changes unseen in the past century, and stayed as strong as ever. Recently, President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin had a video meeting. The two presidents celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation and announced its extension. This shows a mature, stable and solid China-Russia relationship that sets a fine example for a new type of international relations.
Another case in point is cooperation between China and Europe, which over the years has brought tangible benefits to both sides. Earlier this week, leaders of China, France and Germany had a successful virtual meeting. In this multi-polar and globalized world, China supports the EU in seeking greater strategic autonomy and acting as an independent voice in international affairs. The China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, concluded at the end of last year, was a result that will benefit both sides. We do not agree with the moves by a few in the EU to politicize the Agreement. We hope that the EU will handle this matter with a more rational and smarter approach, avoid playing into others' hands, and will not let differences on ideology or human rights upset the overall bilateral cooperation.
Q2. The CPC is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding this year. People across the country are remembering the Party's historic journey. The CPC has grown from weak to strong. It has enjoyed wholehearted faith and support of the people and has engaged the world in an impressive way. That in itself constitutes a momentous diplomatic history. How do you view the CPC's diplomatic achievements and experience?
We have just held the grand celebration of the 100th anniversary of the CPC. I myself had the privilege to listen to General Secretary Xi Jinping's important speech at the event, and felt deeply inspired. From Shikumen to Tian'anmen, from just over 50 to over 95 million Party members, the CPC has conquered so many difficulties, kept forging ahead and traversed a tortuous yet glorious journey. The CPC has presented an impressive scorecard to the people and to history. It has written the most epic chapter in the thousands of years of China's history. General Secretary Xi Jinping solemnly declared that China's national rejuvenation has become a historical inevitability. As a CPC member and a citizen of the People's Republic, I am exceedingly honored and proud.
Over the past 100 years, under the leadership of the CPC, people on China's diplomatic front have made all-out efforts to fulfill the central tasks of the Party and the country, and unswervingly defended national sovereignty, security and development interests. China's relations with the world have witnessed historic changes. Since the 18th Party Congress in particular, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has broken new ground in advancing a series of important diplomatic theories and practices, and formed and established Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy. As China moves closer to the center stage of the world, we will continue to contribute China's solution and wisdom to global prosperity and stability.
Under the leadership of the CPC, China's diplomacy has shown resilience, formed unique spirit, and accumulated valuable experience. We always stand for peace and development. Peace and development is a tireless pursuit of the CPC. We have made our solemn commitment time and again that no matter what stage of development it reaches, China will never seek hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence. We always stand for the principle of independence. Throughout the past century, the CPC never yielded to any foreign force. It has always stayed on its own path, defended national interests and rejected foreign interference with firm resolve. We always stand for international justice. We believe that countries, irrespective of their size and strength, are equal members of the international community. There should be greater democracy in international relations. Global governance should feature extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. We always stand for win-win cooperation. From the Tazara Railway to Belt and Road cooperation, we have always pursued the greater good and shared interests, and advocated solidarity, mutual assistance and common development.
Q3. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China. What is your take on the current China-U.S. relations? What are your expectations of the relations in the future? U.S. officials said on multiple occasions that the United States will engage China "from a position of strength" and "return to multilateralism". What is China's view?
Indeed, 50 years ago today, Dr. Kissinger made his secret visit to China. All the historical experiences of China-U.S. relations of the past five decades point to one lesson: the two sides stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Recently, some in the United States claimed that the era of engagement with China is over. This assertion is apparently untenable. Facts have proved that through 50 years of engagement and cooperation, China and the United States have accomplished many great things and solved many hard problems for the world. They include helping end the Cold War, facilitating the settlement of regional hotspots, joining hands to address terrorism, international financial crisis, climate change and other major global challenges, and safeguarding world peace and stability, not to mention the enormous benefits U.S. businesses and people have gained from their engagement with China. These were unimaginable 50 years ago. How can anyone say that engagement with China has failed and is obsolete?
Some in the United States are trying to shift the blame onto China for their domestic problems. In fact, the biggest challenge for a superpower like the United States always comes from within, not from without. Taking down China is never the cure for U.S. problems. China has no intention to compete with the United States. What we want is to improve and surpass ourselves. We do not have a strategy for hegemony. We only have a strategy for development. Our goal is to deliver a good life for our people and meet their aspiration for a better life.
To engage China "from a position of strength" is in essence an example of hegemonic mindset and Cold War mentality. It is nothing more than flexing muscles and wielding big sticks to intimidate us. The Chinese people never yield to coercion. When China was underdeveloped and only had "millet plus rifles", we were afraid of no one. Today there is no reason for us to be afraid of the so-called "position of strength".
The United States talks about "returning to multilateralism", but in action it pieces together and revives the exclusive mechanisms such as the Quad, Five Eyes alliance and G7, hailing them as components of the so-called "rules-based international order". The rules by these small circles and groups are at best for one-tenth of the world's population. In no way can they speak for the international community. At the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, over 90 countries expressed support for China and said no to anti-China small groups. This is the voice of justice from the international community. This is true multilateralism.
We noted that some people with vision and insight in the United States have recently started to reflect upon and criticize the administration's misguided China policy. They pointed out that zero-sum confrontation with China is dangerous and counterproductive. We hope that the United States will return to reason and to the right track of dialogue and cooperation. Confrontation with China should not be made a policy, and suppressing China should not be taken as "political correctness". Allowing China-U.S. relations to go downhill or derail and the world's two major countries to engage in confrontation and conflict is actually politically incorrect in every sense of the term.
Recently, the United States is floating the idea of high-level dialogue with China. Does China have such considerations?
China is always open to dialogue. That said, we maintain that dialogue should be based on equality and mutual respect, and should address concerns of both sides. It should not be making unilateral demands of China and giving China a to-do list.
Q4. Now quite a number of people in China are talking about decline of the United States. But the United States repeatedly says that it is still the global leader and that it is not declining. It also claims that it will be a serious strategic mistake to "bet against America". What do you make of this?
To my knowledge, it is not the Chinese who talk most about U.S. decline. As early as in the 1980s, Paul Kennedy predicted in his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers that over-extension would lead to protracted decline of the United States. In 2009, Fareed Zakaria also pointed out in his book The Post-American World that, with the rise of other countries, the world was moving into a post-American era and experiencing power shifts. Quite a lot of other people in the United States and Europe have made similar statements and predictions in various ways in recent years.
Personally, I believe that the United States is in decline not in real strength, but in hegemonic power. In terms of real strength, the United States is still the most powerful major country in the world, and will be insurmountable for a long time to come. But no matter how powerful a country is, hegemony will lead the country to decline as it finds no support in the world. Today, if any country still wishes to hold on to its hegemonic power to rule the world and arbitrarily interfere in other countries' internal affairs, it is doomed to fail.
I also believe that for a major country, degeneration in mentality is more dangerous than decline in strength. Now we are in the 21st century, an era of multi-polarity and globalization. It will be ill-advised to still fumble for tools in the Cold War toolkit, keep fixated on how to contain other countries, form small cliques, stoke bloc confrontation and play by the law of the jungle. These musty mentalities do not work at all in today's world. Those who cling to these mentalities will only hurt themselves and others, and will eventually be cast aside by the times.
About "betting against America", succeeding or not hinges not on how you bet, but on what you do. Italy beat Spain in the UEFA Euro 2020 the other day because of how they played, not how anyone bet. China does not base its policies on a bet against America. Whether the United States wins or loses is not up to China. Likewise, China's march forward is not to be stopped by any force.
After taking office, the Biden administration declared on multiple occasions that America is back. Do you think America is back? Is it able to come back?
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You cannot step into the same river twice." Now the United States declares its comeback, but the world has changed. The United States needs to see these changes, adapt to them, and reflect upon and correct its mistakes in the past. Otherwise it will lose its direction again and repeat the old mistakes.
Q5. Not long ago, the United States held multiple summits with its allies. They criticized China's human rights situation, playing up democracy vs. authoritarianism competition, and calling China a systemic rival. According to them, China presents systemic challenges to the international order. What do you make of all this?
Democracy and human rights are not posters or slogans. They are not decorations for window dressing. True democracy and human rights are about guaranteeing basic rights such as employment, housing, food and clothing, education, health service, elderly care and so on. To judge whether a medicine works, one does not look at its advertising but its efficacy. The logic is the same for democracy and human rights. The CPC has made extraordinary governance achievements in the past 100 years. That in itself constitutes the most successful and convincing democracy. The CPC led the 1.4 billion Chinese people in successfully ending extreme poverty that had plagued the nation for thousands of years, and in living a happy life. That in itself is the biggest and greatest human right. So there is no ground at all to accuse the CPC on human rights. In fact, the CPC deserves to be decorated and awarded a gold medal.
The United States and other Western countries are in no position to lecture us on democracy or human rights. They all have a heavily stained human rights record. Historically, these countries engaged in genocide against indigenous peoples and discrimination and persecution against minority ethnic communities. During the United States Westward Expansion after its independence, large numbers of native Americans were slaughtered and dispossessed, causing their population to dwindle from five million to a quarter million in just over 100 years. Native Americans were once the bulk of the population in North America. Today however, they only account for less than two percent of U.S. population. And they were not given U.S. citizenship until 1924. In Canada, remains of over 200 dead children and more than 1,000 unmarked graves were found at the sites of former residential schools for indigenous children. Over the past 160 years, at least 4,000 Canadian children died at residential schools for no natural reason. Even to this day, right inside the United States, people such as George Floyd still "can't breathe". Minority groups remain victims of discrimination, and the homeless have to live on the streets. How brazen it is that these countries have the courage to call themselves "human rights defenders", lecture others on human rights, and talk down to or point fingers at others. This is nothing but interference in other countries' domestic affairs in the name of human rights.
Many Chinese share the view on the Internet that some Americans showing concerns for China's human rights feels like "weasels wishing chickens a happy new year". The United States, as is widely known, has policies against not just China, but also Muslims. In recent years, almost all the bombs fired by the U.S. troops have dropped on Muslim-inhabited territories. The first country that issued a Muslim ban was the United States. But absurdly, the United States is now "worried" about human rights of Chinese Muslims who live a happy life in Xinjiang. Isn't that preposterous?
Q6. The United States has again taken the lead to play up the so-called "Wuhan lab leak" on COVID-19 origin-tracing. President Joe Biden has tasked U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the origins and demanded a report in 90 days. With regard to such ill-intentioned moves clearly targeted against China, what is your comment?
On COVID-19 origin-tracing, China has all along acted in the spirit of openness, transparency and cooperation. We have twice invited WHO experts to China for origin-tracing research. "Introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway." This conclusion was clearly stated in the joint report of the WHO-China study. All the 17 international experts who came to China for the joint study were selected by the WHO, and the majority of them are from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and other Western countries. They have stated, on various occasions, that they "went to all the places [they] wanted to go and met all the people [they] wanted to meet". So what "lack of transparency" are the Western countries talking about?
Just a few days ago, 24 renowned international health experts published an open letter in the authoritative medical journal The Lancet, stating that a laboratory-leak source from China remains without scientifically validated evidence, and stressing that the strongest clue from new evidence is that the virus evolved in nature.
Certain major countries have chosen to ignore facts and politicize this serious issue of science. They seek to question the consensus of scientists with conspiracy theories made up by their intelligence officials. They want to challenge the WHO's authoritative report with the groundless presumption of guilt. Many scientists admit that they have experienced intimidation and even personal safety threats for defending science and telling the truth. This has made them reluctant to speak up in public. Some even had to resign in defense of their science-based stance.
Origin-tracing involves multiple countries and regions around the world. If the United States truly cares about truth and transparency, it should accept international investigation to get to the bottom of the source of the pandemic in the United States, reasons behind its failed COVID response, and problems in its own bio-labs. It should not act like a flashlight – trying to put just others, not itself, under the light.
Q7. The United States has rallied the G7 countries to launch the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative. As President Joe Biden said publicly, it is aimed at countering the Belt and Road cooperation China proposed. What do you make of it?
The United States comes up with the B3W initiative more than seven years after the BRI was first proposed. In my view, instead of countering the BRI, it only proves that the BRI is the right path and the path of the future. Over the past seven-plus years, China has signed over 200 Belt and Road cooperation documents with more than 170 countries and international organizations. Direct investment in BRI participating countries has surpassed U.S.$130 billion. During the recently-concluded Asia and Pacific High-level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation, China, along with 28 countries, launched two new BRI initiatives, the Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation and the Partnership on Green Development. As the World Bank predicts, BRI projects could help lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty by 2030. Steadily and surely, the BRI is bringing opportunities and hope to the vast developing countries.
The key to the BRI's success is implementation and implementation in badly needed areas. Be it roads, bridges or tunnels, it all requires real input, financially and physically, not meetings, reports or statements. In addition, the BRI is open and inclusive. We have no problem with others coming up with good cooperation initiatives. We hope that the United States and other Western countries will truly deliver on infrastructure initiatives, and help developing countries build more roads and bridges, and create more jobs and welfare, rather than being obsessed with meddling with other countries' internal affairs or imposing Western values.
Q8. I'd like to wrap up with an easier question. As China gets closer to the center of the world stage, elephants in China are also on the move. Recently, 15 elephants roamed hundreds of miles across Yunnan Province, leaving along the way numerous stories of humans and animals living together in harmony. The elephants are now a global sensation. Did you follow these stories? Which part of the stories caught your interest? Do they represent the "reliable, lovable and respectable" image that President Xi Jinping depicted about China?
I am as curious and excited as everyone else when following these elephants' steps everyday. They have trampled over half a million square meters of crops, but no one ever thought about hurting them. People call them "tons of cuties". Villagers have prepared trucks of food such as corns and pineapples for them.
People from all sectors in China have increasingly realized that livelihood hinges on the environment, green mountains and blue skies mean beauty and happiness, and a good ecological environment is beneficial to the wellbeing of all. As General Secretary Xi Jinping said, green mountains and lucid waters are indeed mountains of gold and silver. Following the Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization, we have made great efforts to protect the environment and achieved notable outcomes. The skies are now visibly clearer, and waters cleaner. There is greater harmony between man and nature. For example, over the past 30 years, the number of wild Asian elephants in Yunnan has grown from 150 to 300.
This year, the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will be held in Kunming, Yunnan Province, where countries will discuss ways to protect global environment. The eyes of the world will be on Kunming. Perhaps the 15 elephants are also eager to attend the conference. They just arrived a bit earlier.
China is never short of good stories. The elephants make a good story. The international community is following closely where they are heading. Some media outlets took off their "gloomy filters", and as a result, foreign citizens were able to see the professionalism and care of Chinese officials, the kindness and generosity of the ordinary people, the beauty of the mountains and rivers in Yunnan, and the harmony between man and nature. I hope our friends from the media will discover and share more stories like this, present a diverse, colorful and multi-dimensional China, and help the world learn more and have a better understanding about China.