Staying Open and Inclusive and Upholding Multilateralism:
Toward a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind
Video Remarks by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi
At the Munich Security Conference Conversation with China
25 May 2021
Your Excellency Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger,
Let me begin by thanking the Munich Security Conference (MSC) for hosting this conversation with China. It gives me great pleasure to meet friends old and new via video link.
When I spoke at the MSC in February last year, China was in the middle of the fight against COVID-19. The global community gave us much valued support as we fought on the front line of the battle, and that shall always remain deep in our heart. Now, one year on, the pandemic is still raging and bringing significant implications to the world and profound changes to humanity. As we continue to join hands both in fighting the pandemic and in ushering in a new future after COVID-19, it is high time countries opened up still further to each other and pursued even greater solidarity and cooperation.
There have been some concerns expressed, including in Europe, about China's development path and foreign policy. While some are fair and reasonable, some are misgivings and misunderstandings. I wish to take this opportunity to first give you China's perspective and then hear your thoughts.
First, China's development is for the progress of humanity, not to challenge or threaten the world.
This year, we celebrate the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC). To understand China's development, it is essential to have a good understanding of China's history and the CPC. As an ancient nation with a 5,000-year civilization, China has had its glory days and been through trials and tribulations. In modern times in particular, the Chinese nation was thrown almost to the brink of extinction as a result of aggression by imperialism and colonialism. To save the nation, our forefathers explored and exhausted almost all political models available at the time, including constitutional monarchy, parliamentarism, multi-party system and presidential system, and yet all ended up in failure. Finally, it was the CPC that adapted Marxism to the Chinese context and rallied and led the Chinese people to achieve national independence and liberation. A right path was found to prosperity and strength, a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In recent years in particular, under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, China has scored a succession of historic achievements in its development, and socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.
This is a path of development that features constant self-renewal. In just a few decades since the founding of New China, we managed to turn the country from being poor and weak into the second largest economy in the world. We have supported nearly 20 percent of the world's population with only 9 percent of the world's total arable land; we now have a middle income group counting over 400 million people; and we have put in place the world's largest social security and compulsory education systems. For countries that have achieved modernization over the past centuries, their populations ranged from millions to tens of millions, or hundreds of millions, to say the most. For China, the near completion of modernization, with its 1.4 billion people, is in itself a milestone in human development and, more importantly, a historic contribution to the progress of the world.
This is a path of peace that features an unwavering commitment. As a country that has suffered so much from foreign aggression and expansion, China knows the value of peace. Hence, from the very beginning, we are determined not to tread on the beaten path of traditional powers. Instead, we are committed to an independent foreign policy of peace. For the last 70-plus years since the founding of the People's Republic, China has never started a war or encroached upon a single inch of foreign soil. China is the only country that has codified peaceful development in its constitution. China has a longer boundary, more neighboring countries, and more historical complications than any other country in the world. Through peaceful negotiations, China has delineated and demarcated boundaries with 12 of its 14 land neighbors. Regarding outstanding disputes over territory and maritime rights and interests, China has pledged to seek negotiated settlement without resorting to the use or threat of force. In China's diplomatic vocabulary, there is no place for words like "coercion" or "bullying". China is a fast-growing major country that is committed to peaceful co-existence with all countries and to non-hegemony, non-expansion and non-coercion. This is an irrefutable major contribution to global strategic stability.
This is a path of cooperation that features benefits for the whole world. China has always embraced the world with open arms and acted as a trustworthy partner of the international community. In the wake of the European debt crisis, China firmly supported the eurozone's response to the challenge. On climate change, China upholds the authority and effectiveness of the Paris Agreement. In the face of mounting protectionism, China has hosted the China International Import Expo for three years running to share its opportunities with the rest of the world. We are committed to employing a shorter negative list and to putting in place a better business environment and even higher-standard institutional opening-up so that the China market will be more open to the world. Since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched seven years ago, China has registered more than 7.8 trillion US dollars in trade and 110 billion US dollars in direct investment with BRI partner countries, benefiting European companies among others. The China-Europe Railway Express, now in its 10th year and running some 1,000 services every month, has become a lifeline connecting countries as they fight COVID-19 and promote recovery. A World Bank report suggests that by 2030, globally, the Belt and Road Initiative could contribute to lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million from moderate poverty.
China's development has never been at the expense of other countries' interests; it has always focused on mutual benefit and cooperation. For over 10 years, China has contributed to more than 30 percent of global growth and more than 70 percent of global poverty reduction. Since 2008, China has received 25 percent of exports from the least developed countries and put off more loan repayment under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative for Poorest Countries than other G20 members. These are real efforts toward narrowing the North-South gap. During the COVID-19 pandemic, China has provided urgently needed supplies to 150-plus countries and 13 international organizations, including more than 280 billion masks, 3.4 billion protective suits, and 4 billion testing kits. China is the first to pledge making vaccines a global public good, and has so far provided 300 million doses to the world. At the recent Global Health Summit, President Xi Jinping announced five new measures, including providing financial aid, supplying vaccines, carrying out joint vaccine production, and waiving intellectual property rights on vaccines. These measures will lend a strong impetus to the building of a global community of health for all.
That said, China's development remains a long and arduous journey. Our per capita GDP, just a little over 10,000 US dollars, ranks after the 60th in the world, far behind most European countries. The primary task for this biggest developing country in the world is to concentrate on developing itself and addressing the principal contradiction between China's unbalanced and inadequate development and the Chinese people's ever-growing needs for a better life. Our plan is to foster a new development paradigm, advance reform and opening-up of a higher standard, and pursue win-win cooperation of higher quality. China will achieve even better development, and the world will become a better place with China's development.
Second, China is a trustworthy partner of all countries, not a systemic rival locked in confrontation.
In recent years, some have talked about China's successful path and system as being a shock and threat to the West. In Europe, quite some people have defined China as a "systemic rival". This is something we cannot agree with. As for what system a country may adopt, there is no one-size-fits-all model. Countries differ in history, culture and social system, just like the food that is different in the Chinese and Western cuisines that use either chopsticks or knife and fork - each is there for its own particular reason. Different social systems do not necessarily make countries rivals, nor do different development paths entail sure obstruction to mutually beneficial cooperation.
Over the past decades, China's relations with the West have on the whole maintained a momentum of cooperation, and that has enormously benefited both sides and beyond. The first Western country and the first major Western country to establish diplomatic relations with China were both European countries, and European countries almost all voted in favor of restoring China's lawful seat at the United Nations 50 years ago. When China and the European Union established comprehensive strategic partnership in 2003, European countries had the knowledge that they were engaging a country with a much different system, and it did not stop Europe from making the right and independent decision. What it fully demonstrates is that as long as countries respect each other and pursue mutually beneficial cooperation, they could rise above their different systems. Today, several decades on, the only thing that is different with China is its development. The West would seem rather narrow-minded should it choose to view China as a rival and threat because of its development. For China, we have always been confident in our own system and inclusive toward other cultures. China will stick to the system and development path it has chosen and, at the same time, fully respect the independent choices of other countries. China will never export its system or engage in systemic competition. We always believe that diversity is a defining feature of human society, and pluralism an important driver behind global development. Different systems can all succeed through mutual accommodation and mutual learning.
Some people, out of certain intention, have tried to portray China's relations with the West as a competition between democracy and authoritarianism. Such an act of drawing lines between values is hardly objective, rational or democratic. China believes that the values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom are all shared values of humanity and the common goals of all countries. They must not be labeled as the patent of only a few countries in the world. Since the CPC was founded, it has been committed to pursuing democracy and freedom for the Chinese people. Upholding and protecting human rights has been written into the constitution of the People's Republic of China. As countries differ in national realities, the practices of democracy and human rights also vary from country to country. The key judgment is whether the people are satisfied and happy.
How is China doing on human rights? No one is a better judge than the Chinese people themselves. In the last seven decades and more, over 850 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty and average life expectancy has surged from 35 to 77 years. With its Human Development Index rising from 0.410 in 1978 to 0.758 in 2018, China is the only country that has completed the transition from low to high human development since the United Nations launched the Index. Many independent opinion polls conducted by Western research institutes over the years have invariably placed the approval and satisfaction ratings of the CPC and the Chinese government among the Chinese people at the top of world rankings.
To take China's Xinjiang region for an example. I know this is of much interest to many. Xinjiang has seen substantial development in human rights. Its GDP has grown over 200 times, or nearly 40 times in per capita terms. More than three million people have graduated from poverty. Between 2007 and 2018, the Uygur population in the region grew from 9.65 million to 12.72 million, an increase of over three million or 31.8 percent. The allegation of a "genocide" in Xinjiang is against the facts and common sense. It is a stray from human intelligence and conscience. Many foreign friends who have been to Xinjiang have openly denounced such allegations.
Third, China is ready to work with countries in Europe and the wider world to practice true multilateralism and uphold the UN-centered international system.
The principle lying at the core of the existing international system and order is multilateralism. When multilateralism is well observed, the well-being of humanity gets preserved and advanced. When multilateralism is under attack, chaos breaks out and the law of the jungle returns. The past few years saw unilateralism running unchecked. A superpower had chosen to put its own interests above other things. It turned its back on a host of international organizations and treaties, and wielded the stick of unilateral sanctions, causing serious disruption to international order and global governance. Against such a backdrop, China and Europe rose to the challenge. Together, our two sides defended multilateralism with concrete actions, and prevented the world from heading toward confrontation and division.
Today, in a world experiencing changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century, the 193 UN member states must not see themselves as 193 separate boats, but 193 sailors onboard the same boat. To successfully navigate rapids and hidden shoals, we must pull together in solidarity, stay united for multilateralism, and heighten the awareness that we are a community with a shared future. Here come the questions: What is multilateralism? How to practice multilateralism? We welcome discussions among countries. In China's view, true multilateralism cannot be achieved without the United Nations and a firm commitment to upholding the UN-centered international system. True multilateralism cannot be achieved without international law and a firm commitment to maintaining the international order built upon it. And true multilateralism cannot be achieved without international cooperation and a commitment of major countries to lead by example in upholding justice, following the rule of law, undertaking responsibilities, and focusing on actions. We must guard against "pseudo-multilateralism". Sheer talk of returning to multilateralism may hide a real scheme to form small circles and conduct group politics, and to even divide the world along ideological lines and force countries to pick sides. We have heard talks about the need to uphold the "rules-based international order". The crux of the matter is: What kind of "rules" are being talked about? If they mean the UN Charter and international law, repetitious references to the "rules" sound rather redundant. If they only mean rules set by several or a group of countries, that would amount to imposing the will of the minority on the majority. That is not true multilateralism.
Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. To judge whether a country is truly practicing and upholding multilateralism, one must look at what it is doing. As the first country to put its signature on the UN Charter, China has joined almost all inter-governmental organizations and over 500 international treaties. We have never walked away from international obligations, never asked others to pick sides, or owed arrears to the United Nations or any other international organization. For the past five decades since the restoration of its lawful seat at the United Nations, China has remained a "doer" in the various undertakings of this organization. China is now the second largest funding contributor to both the United Nations and UN peacekeeping operations and the top contributor of peacekeeping personnel among the permanent members of the Security Council. Since its accession to the World Trade Organization 20 years ago, China has cut its overall tariff rate to below 7.5 percent, lower than most countries in the world, and has shortened its negative list on market access to 33 items. This has placed China among the most open countries in the world.
China and Europe are two major forces for multilateralism. Upholding multilateralism has been one of our most important common understandings and shared responsibilities. Madam Mogherini once said that multilateralism is the EU's DNA and that China and the EU should adhere to multilateralism, safeguard international order, and play the role of a stabilizer in the world. I very much agree with her observation. China hopes to work with the EU to set an example for upholding and practicing multilateralism.
Fourth, China is ready to maintain and expand all-round cooperation with Europe in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual benefit.
There are now different kinds of talks about the nature of the China-EU relationship. Is it one of competition, confrontation or cooperation? Are the two sides each other's rivals, threats or partners? China's position is consistent and clear: We view China-EU relations from a strategic height, we see cooperation as the overall direction and keynote of China-EU relations, and we see Europe as a partner, not a rival. We will continue to support the European integration process. We support the EU in gaining greater unity, strength and strategic independence and in playing a bigger role in the world. We also stand ready to expand all-round cooperation with Europe on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit, which serves the interests of the Chinese and European people and peace and development in the world. In this context, I wish to highlight the following as priority areas of China-EU cooperation:
First and foremost, we need to step up cooperation against COVID-19 to beat this once-in-a-century pandemic. An ongoing pandemic with many twists and turns is the biggest challenge to the international community. It is important that China and Europe continue to lead global cooperation against the pandemic. The two sides may work more closely on the development and production of vaccines and medicines, support the World Health Organization and GAVI in playing their roles, oppose the politicization of vaccines, reject vaccine nationalism, promote more fair and equitable distribution of vaccines, and help developing countries enhance anti-epidemic capacity.
Second, we need to enhance coordination on macro-policies to boost global economic recovery. The world economy faces multiple challenges, including an ongoing pandemic and looming inflationary pressures. As two major economies, China and the EU need to call upon all sides to adopt responsible macro economic and financial policies, watch out for financial risks, oppose protectionism, and keep global industrial and supply chains unclogged. These efforts will help increase certainty in economic recovery.
The European Parliament has recently passed a motion pushing for the freeze of the EU's investment agreement with China, citing Xinjiang as the reason. I want to stress that with a high level of mutual benefit, the investment agreement is not a one-sided favor. The Xinjiang-related issue bears on China's sovereignty and security. Attempts by some in the EU to link up issues of different nature and turn trade issues into political ones are not acceptable and would lead nowhere. Cooperation between China and Europe represents the overriding trend. Stoking political confrontation and economic decoupling between our two sides does not serve Europe's interests and will not go very far.
Third, we need to enhance green and digital cooperation to lead innovation-driven development in the world. Green economy and digital economy represent the future of humanity. China and the EU have forged partnerships for green and digital cooperation. We are well positioned to lead on these fronts. We need to increase exchanges and cooperation in circular economy, clean energy and biodiversity, and offer mutual support to each other's environmental agenda. We could seek greater complementarity in such areas as digital economy, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and technical rules and standards, promote the rule-making of global digital governance, and work together for a community with a shared future in cyberspace featuring peace, security, openness, cooperation and order. China has proposed a Global Initiative on Data Security. We will be happy to hear good suggestions from the EU side.
Fourth, we need to strengthen global governance to jointly address global challenges. Global challenges have kept emerging and global governance reform has entered a deep-water zone. China and the EU need to enhance communication and cooperation within multilateral frameworks including the UN, the WTO and the WHO, in a bid to make the global governance system more fair and equitable. At a recent video summit, leaders of China, France and Germany reached strategic consensus on climate change and other important topics. There should be further communication and cooperation to follow that through. China and the EU also need to promote the political settlement of hotspot issues, including the Iranian nuclear issue and those related to Syria, Palestine and Israel, and the Middle East, for the benefit of regional peace and stability.
Fifth, we need to encourage people-to-people exchanges to promote interactions between Eastern and Western civilizations. China and Europe are two proud civilizations, whose mutual learning have left many widely-told stories. We need to encourage more cultural, educational, academic and media exchanges to better understand each other and bring our peoples closer. Such exchanges will also help prevent disinformation from covering up truth and political virus from eroding solidarity. They will cement the popular and social foundation for the steady growth of China-EU relations in the years to come. Europe is the birthplace of the Olympic spirit. Our two sides may stand together in denouncing the politicization of sports. China welcomes European countries to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and Chinese audience are looking forward to cheering for the excellent performance of European athletes.
So much for my account of the China perspective. Now it is my pleasure to listen to my old friends Mr. Gabriel and Madam Mogherini and to have a conversation with Chairman Ischinger. Thank you.