Keynote Speech by Ambassador Cui Tiankai at the International Conference on China-US Cooperation in Global Security Affairs

April 16 2015, Washington D.C.

Good morning everybody, I am very happy to be here and very happy to see some old friends and get acquaintance with new friends. I am here for two additional reasons. First, to follow the good example of Dr. Henry Kissinger. Wherever he is to share his versions about this important China-US relationship, I should be here to echo. Second, to express my appreciation and support to think tank exchanges between our two countries, China-US relations is so important. In addition to government-government ties, we should have support and participation of the general public and intellectual input from think tanks of our two countries.

Thank you President Wu for initiating this important conference. And the theme of the discussion today is of pressing importance. The world is undergoing profound changes and confronting with growing number of security challenges. Old and new, traditional and non traditional, we still have quite a few long lasting regional conflicts and resurgence of geo-politics, which is truly worrisome. We are also facing with the rise of international terrorism, extremism, proliferation and mounting ethnical and sectoral conflicts. And in a broader sense, we are confronted with security challenges such as cross border crimes, climate changes, cyber security, energy security, food security, natural disasters and infectious diseases.

China and the Untied States are respectively the biggest developing and developed countries. We are the two largest economies. Each has intensive ties with the rest of the world. We both need effective international order, a normal function of global market and stability in the world. We have common interests in addressing those security challenges together. At the same time, both of our countries are permanent members of United Nations Security Council. We are important players in existing international order. So we have shared responsibilities together with other countries to maintain international peace and stability, and bring out a safe and secure world. Relations between the United States and China are key to global stability.

It is encouraging to note that communications and coordination between our two countries on security issues, bilateral, regional and global,are making steady progress and becoming important building blocks for new model of major country relationship that we are developing. These issues are high on the agenda of high level exchanges, especially meetings between the two Presidents. We also have effective bilateral mechanism for coordination and cooperation, such as Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Strategic and Security Dialogue. Secretary Johnson of Homeland Security Department has just concluded a successful and fruitful visit to China. And two militaries are also enhancing their interaction through confidence building measures, high-level dialogues and more joint exercises and trainings, We are working together both bilaterally and multilaterally on anti-terrorism, non-proliferation, and regional issues such as Afghanistan and South Sudan. We are also working together on global challenges such as climate change and energy, food security, relief and prevention of natural disasters and prevention of disease as Ebola. This year marks the 70 anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Our countries are also working together, along with other countries to maintain and reform the international order and bring about better security of mankind.

We should be proud of what we have achieved. However, measured against the needs to respond to changing situation of mounting challenges, measured against our responsibilities to cooperate on these issues and the real potential for such cooperation, what we have already achieved is clearly not sufficient. We have to do more and much better. I think the key is our mentalities and perceptions.

Do we have ourselves on the new realities of the 21st century, or do we still believe that the world should be run in the same way as the 19th century or the early part of the 20th century?

Do we seek win-win cooperation among countries, or do we still play a zero-sum game?

Do we advocate a new concept for security that stands for common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, or do we try to achieve one’s own absolute security at the expense of others?

Do we work together to build broad-based partnerships that will enable us to effectively confront the global issues for common interest, or do we still keep a narrow focus on Cold War type of alliances that actually restrict the vision, reduce the choices and will render the world more divided and less secure?

These are the choices we all have to make, and our choices will determine our future.

For China, the choice is clear, we will continue to pursue the path of peaceful development and the independent foreign policy of peace. Although China is still the world’s largest developing country and faced with tremendous tasks of reform and development at home, we are keenly aware of our international responsibilities and expectation of international community. We will make even greater contributions to global peace, security, development and prosperity as our own country continues to grow.

As for relations with the US, we remain firmly committed to building a new model of relationship with the US which is characterized by no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. And indeed, we hope that America will make the same right choice, break the constraints of unfounded worries, suspicions and fears, and join us in this common endeavor. Actually, there is no real alternative to this. Our two countries have to be on the right side of history together in order to safeguard the well-being and interests of our peoples and help make the world a better and safer place for all.

Nowadays, whatever discussion on security matters are held, maritime security is most often among the priorities. Let me take this opportunity to share with you my own views on this issue, particularly situations on South China Sea.

First, China’s position regarding its territorial sovereignty is clear and consistent over many decades. Its position has not changed and will not change. This should be no surprise to anyone. While we are determined to safeguard our sovereign and maritime rights, we also exercise best restraint in handling disputes with others. We will continue to do so. It would be totally unfair, however, to ask China to give up its legitimate rights and give in to the unjustifiable demands of certain parties. Let there be no illusion that anyone could impose on China a unilateral “status quo”. And let there be no illusion that anyone could repeatedly violate China’s sovereignty without consequences.

Second, China stands for peaceful settlement of disputes through diplomatic dialogue and negotiations. Together with ASEAN countries, China has proposed a “dual-track approach” on the issue of South China Sea, i.e. negotiation and consultation on territorial disputes between countries directly concerned on the basis of respect for historical facts and international law, and joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability in the region. This approach is in line with norms of international law and relevant international practices and is supported by the overwhelming majority of ASEAN members.

There is now ongoing consultation among China and ASEAN countries to formulate a code of conduct in the South China Sea. China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are engaged in maritime cooperation in a variety of areas. Projects funded by China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund and China-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation Fund are being implemented effectively. China and ASEAN have also designated 2015 as the year for maritime cooperation and launched an extensive program of activities.

It must be pointed out that China and ASEAN countries share much larger common interests in overall regional stability and prosperity. The bonds that unite us are much stronger and longer-lasting than any possible difference between us. Indeed, China and ASEAN countries belong to the same community of common destiny. On that solid basis, we are able to work out proper solutions to existing disputes. I am confident of that.

Third, there have been some media reports recently about maintenance and construction work that China is carrying out on some of the Nansha islands and reefs. You may also have noticed the briefing given by the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry. Let me reiterate here that such work is well within China’s sovereignty. It does not impact or target any other country. The main purpose is to improve the functions of facilities there so as to provide services to ships of China, neighboring countries and other countries that sail across the South China Sea. Such services will include shelter for ships, navigation aid, search and rescue, marine meteorological observation, fishery service and many others. Emphasis will also be put on marine environment protection.

Of course there will be defense facilities. This is only natural and necessary and they are purely for defensive purposes. If these facilities could not even defend themselves, how can they render service to others? If China could not safeguard its own sovereignty, how can it shoulder greater responsibilities for international stability? Therefore, building-up of China’s capabilities in the South China Sea provides public goods to all and serves the interests of maintaining security, stability and freedom of navigation there.

Last but not least, all these must be seen and understood in the context of China’s foreign policy and defense policy. China has an independent foreign policy of peace and a defense policy that is defensive in nature. They are dictated by our national goals and interests, our cultural heritage and our determination to pursue the path of peaceful development. China has long been a strong advocate for international cooperation and a staunch force for world peace. Facts show that as China grows stronger, it is better able to take up greater international responsibilities and contribute more to regional and global stability. A clear understanding of this big picture will lead to a good understanding of what China really wants and what China is doing in the region. Anyone who shares our commitment to community building in the region shall have nothing to worry about. We also seek cooperation with other countries, particularly with the United States.

At the Q&A session, Ambassador Cui answered a question on United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). He said, China is one of the first countries to join and ratify the UNCLOS and we take our international obligations very seriously. Of course, we welcome more countries to join us including the United States. There are two things we have to make clear. First, the Convention is not intended to resolve territorial issues. This is quite clear in the preamble of the Convention itself. Second, the Convention does not give anyone the right to conduct intensive, close-range reconnaissance activities in other countries’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

About AMTI Leadership

Dr. Michael Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Executive Advisor to AMTI. Gregory Poling is Director of AMTI and Fellow with the Asia Program at CSIS. Learn more about the core AMTI leadership.