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Speech by His Excellency Mr. Ma Zhengang

His Excellency Mr. Ma Zhengang

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China

On: China and the West

18 October 2001

“It is a really great honor for me to be speaking to the European Atlantic Group today.  After taking the kind advice of Mrs. Dangerfield, I changed the name of my talk.  To be frank, I felt a bit hesitant at first and have some reasons for this:

Number one:  Prime Minister Tony Blair launched a net debate on his web site immediately after his visit to China in October 1998 and his title was “China and the West.”.  So it may seem like a clone of his idea.

Number two:  It is true that the west as a geopolitical term has long been accepted generally but, judging it from a strictly academic view, it is rather ambiguous.  The ‘West’ normally refers to countries in Western Europe and North America, yet these countries are by no means a unilateral entity and are not even an informal block.  They share a lot in common but their differences from one another are just as great.  Each has its own individual character and no one can represent the others.  In most cases they have to be dealt with one by one.

Number three:  When talking about relations between China and the West you have to touch upon some history.  As a matter of fact, this is not a very pleasant part of our relations.  China has suffered a great deal in the hands of many of the western countries.  Since the mid 19th century, China has not been treated well over a long period of time.  But China’s people are, of course, very broad minded and have never indulged in the past bitterness in conducting these relations with other countries.  They are always grateful to those that have done some good to China. There is a well known phrase in China:  ‘Never forget old friends’.   We have taken a positive attitude of looking forward and not backward and have not required them to pay us back in their own coin.  Nevertheless, history should serve us a good lesson.  These old practices should not be repeated today.

When the People’s Republic of China was formed in October 1949, we expressed our desire to form relations with all countries in the world based on mutual respect and equality.  But this idea was ignored by most countries in the west until the early 1970s.  By then the west began to unfreeze their relations with China sincerely because they, as well as China, were deeply concerned about the expansionist threat of the former Soviet Union.  China was somewhat regarded by the west as a kind of strategic partner and there was a period of development of relations between the west and China.  From the 1970s most western countries established diplomatic relations with China and both Britain and the Netherlands upgraded their relationships to ambassadorial levels.

Since China’s adoption of a policy of open reform in late 1978, the relationships between China and the western countries have grown to a new height.  Again there are changes taking place in the world situation with the conclusion of the cold war.  Some people in the west began to wonder if there were any strategic reasons but some people even view China as a potential rival or enemy.  This has caused a lot of ups and downs in the relationship.  Such suspicions and allegations are a complete blunder.

The general trend of the world today is that the world needs peace and peoples want co-operation.

Like the people in the rest of the world, Chinese people are not afraid; and have paid the heavy price for the cold war and the confrontations of the last century. In the Second World War, China fought against fascist forces for as long as eight years and over 30 million people lost their lives.

We hate to see any hot war or cold war break out in any part of the world.  We hate to see any county or group of countries pushing against others with politics.  We hate to see any more widening of the gap between the North and the South, the rich and the poor.  We honestly long for lasting peace for a new and more fair international political and economic order and a real democracy in international relations.

It is true that we have made tremendous progress in the last 20 years and our people’s lives have improved dramatically but we are soberly aware that we have a long way to go.  It will take us at least 50 years or even a century or more for China to be really built up.  Stability at home and peace abroad are the prerequisites for the further development because no country can engage in serious construction in a chaotic situation, domestically, regionally or in the world.

The person of China account for 20% of the world’s total.  The fact that this is such a big part of the world’s population could lead a peaceful and comfortable life and beyond any doubt to a great contribution to mankind itself.  Chinese people do not only think of themselves and their own interest.  We strongly aspire for common development and prosperity for people all over the world and we are willing to work together for that in the future.

I believe we can have a correct assessment of the relations between China and the west only against such a background.

As you know, I have served in both Canada and the US and looked after our relations in North America for over ten years.  Sino-US relations have been one of the most important in Chinese foreign affairs and, from my own experience; it has been one of our most complicated.  In truth it is much more complicated than our relations with Western Europe.

When I worked in the office of foreign affairs for America, my colleagues would often joke with one another that they were lucky to do the job because we experienced happiness, bitterness, soreness and hardship alternately in a short period of time.

The development of US-Chinese relations shows that there are no insurmountable barriers.  It is clear that further development of relations between the US and China would benefit the whole world. A former leader Mao Tsetung told British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in 1960 that China does not view Britain and France as a threat to China.  “We hope to see Britain and France grow in strength.”   In January 1965 he told a visiting French Parliamentary delegation there are two fundamental points in common between us.

1.  Neither of us allows any big power to play the bully with us nor do we let ourselves be controlled or hurt by anything capitalist of socialist.

2.  Our two countries hope to enhance our economic cultural context.  The relations between Western Europe and China have changed dramatically

Now both China and Western Europe are rising forces in the world and their common interests have grown stronger.  China has also become a member of the UN Security Council and is the 7th largest economy in the world.  If you combined the population of the two sides it would count for 27% of the world’s total, of course 22% are Chinese people.

All this has put a heavy responsibility on our shoulders and has called us to play a big role in maintaining world peace and permitting common development. I think the solid foundation has been laid down and for the future development.

1.  Neither China nor Europe regards the other as a threat, rather as a sound partner in co-operation.  In December 1995, the EU adopted a document of long term policy on China and EU relations.  In November 1996 the EU Commission put forward a strategy for China.  On the 29th of June 1998, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers debated and adopted a new document on the establishment of a comprehensive partnership with China, deciding to elevate the level of China to equal importance to that of Japan, the United States and Russia. In April this year, a document addressing the relationship between China and the EU was developed. In April 1998, the first meeting between the Chinese and the EU leaders was held in London and the two sides issued a joint document stating the need for improved relations between China and the EU.

Since 1994, the two sides have maintained frequent mutual visits.  There have been eight high level meetings, ten dialogues on human rights, five forums on justice and two conferences on women’s rights by the end of last year.  All these have developed depth and maturity of the political relationship between China and the EU.

2.  The EU is China’s third largest trading partner next to the US and Japan and the trade value between China and the EU has increased vastly.  In 1997 it was 44 billion US dollars, $48.86 billion in 1998, $55.68 billion in 1999 and $72.9 billion in the year 2000.  The first six months of this year has registered a further increase of 15%.  The EU countries are also important investors in China.

3.  Both the EU and China boast a splendid cultural heritage and a fine tradition of civilization. They can learn from one another in order to further social growth and enrich their spiritual lives.  Our world is rich and colorful, the basic feature of human society and also the driving force behind the progress of any civilization.

I for one strongly oppose the doctrine of clashing civilizations.  I think promoting harmony of all civilization will benefit all and provoking conflicts among different civilizations will cause severe problems.

4.  There are differences between China and the EU owing to differences in history, cultural, society and a different level of development, and we are trying to find a constructive way to handle our differences.  That is through consultative dialogue on an equal basis. Friendly consultation will promote mutual understanding, a helpful, informal solution to our differences. Conflict as history has taught us will lead to nothing.

The coming 10 to 20 years are a crucial period for China.  The Chinese people are facing the very difficult task of developing China.  In the year 2010 the GDP will have doubled from the 2000 figure.  In 2000, the GDP was around $1 trillion so in 2010 the GDP will be something like $2 trillion.

We hope that by the year 2050 China will realize it’s basic modernization program – that is one year ahead of 2049 the one hundred year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

For this we need to complete several tasks.

1.  Completely restructure our economy.

2.  More effort on development of the west of China

3.  The gradual urbanization of China’s vast countryside.

All of that is not easy.  The world situation is a bit difficult right now.  The world eeconomy has slowed down, particularly after the tragedy in New York and Washington on the 11th of September.  These events have had a very negative effect on the world.  But still China has maintained the vigor of developing because mainly we put our efforts in domestic markets.  But still we need help and support from the world community and we have seen some opportunities.  Most recently is the possibility that in November, China will be admitted to the WTO, this of course will give numerous opportunities and challenges as well.

Another important opportunity is Beijing’s winning of the Olympic Games in 2008.  Although we will not receive any benefit from the games themselves, preparing for the games could be a great boost for China’s economy.  According to expert analysis this could help China’s GDP to grow by 03% annually.

And so China has great opportunities in the future and we hope the Western European Countries will join China in its development.  Our door will open wider and our reform will continue through to the end.  Let us work together for a better and more beautiful future.”