People-to-People Exchanges and the Future of China-US Relations

Speech to the China Forum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Liu Yandong

Boston, 13 April 2011

President Susan Hockfield,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Faculty Members and Students,

It is a great privilege to come to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on this beautiful spring day at the gracious invitation of President Hockfield at a time when MIT is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

For 150 years, MIT has carried the dreams of the pioneers of this country. The history of MIT is full of glory and honor. You have produced numerous outstanding graduates, including more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates. You have made many scientific and technological achievements that stunned the world, thus becoming a major research powerhouse leading global scientific and technological advances. Today, MIT is known across the globe for its distinctive character and academic excellence. Your achievements have had a profound impact not only on the United States but also on the whole world. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my warm congratulations on your 150th anniversary and best wishes to all the faculty members and students.

I have come to the United States at the invitation of the American government to follow up on the outcomes of President Hu Jintao's recent visit, enhance people-to-people exchanges and push forward the China-US cooperative partnership. Yesterday in Washington D.C., Secretary Clinton and I co-chaired the second meeting of the China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. The meeting was very fruitful. Today, it is my great pleasure to be here at MIT and attend the China Forum.

In my view, the China Forum, established by MIT to focus on China and discuss China-US relations, demonstrates extraordinary vision. The people of China and the United States have a profound friendship. We fought side by side during the anti-fascist war. Over 2,000 American aviation personnel laid down their lives while helping China to resist Japanese aggression. This reminds me of a story from my own family. In early 1945, my father lost three soldiers under his command in order to save American pilots. (I have brought with me a picture of Major Watt and others who had been saved by Chinese soldiers, together with my father beside the plane.) This example reflects the long and deep friendship between our two nations.

Today, the China-US relationship is one of the most dynamic and consequential bilateral relationships in the world. If you look at the world with a future-oriented and global perspective, you will find that China and the United States share broader common interests and shoulder more common responsibilities. A sound China-US relationship will not only bring real benefit to the people of our two countries, but also make enormous contribution to world peace and development in the 21st century. We have a saying in Chinese that mutual understanding brings people together. To develop the China-US cooperative partnership, it is essential to increase our mutual understanding. I truly hope that the China Forum will help you get to know a real China.

To understand today's China, one needs to go back to its modern history. This year marks the centenary of the Revolution of 1911. One hundred years ago, this revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen overthrew the rule of the Qing Dynasty and put an end to several thousand years of feudal autocracy in China. Sixty-two years ago, the Chinese people led by Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China. China won national independence and liberation and turned a new page in its history. Thirty-two years ago, Deng Xiaoping initiated reform and opening-up in China. Since then, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, the Chinese people have carried out an extensive and profound transformation. China has successfully turned from a planned economy to a socialist market economy, from a closed and semi-closed society to one fully embracing the world. For over three decades, China's economy has been growing at an average annual rate of around 10%. More than 200 million people have been lifted out of poverty. In the past, most Chinese people did not have enough to eat and wear; now, they are leading a comfortable life. China has also actively integrated into the international community and got involved in economic globalization. It is fair to draw the conclusion that the world has brought opportunities to China, and China has in turn contributed to the world with its own development. Thanks to the hard work and wisdom of the Chinese people, who constantly strove for progress and learned conscientiously from the world, China has finally found a development path with Chinese characteristics after a century of hard explorations. This development path suits China's national conditions and reflects the trend of the world, a path fully endorsed by the people of China.

This said, China is still a developing country. Although China is now the world's second largest economy, per capita GDP in China is merely one-ninth that of the United States and ranks around 100th in the world. There are large development and income gaps between urban and rural areas and across different regions. Over 100 million Chinese are still living below the poverty line set by the UN. To close the gap with developed countries and achieve modernization for the 1.3 billion Chinese, we need to make persistent efforts for several generations and overcome numerous challenges ahead. Thus, for a long period to come, we have to concentrate on addressing our own development challenges.

Last month, China announced its plan for national economic and social development in the next five years. The plan highlights the crucial importance of scientific development and focuses on accelerated transformation of the economic development pattern. It aims to address issues underlying the lack of balance, coordination and sustainability in China's development. The plan puts people first and calls for comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development. Meanwhile, we are determined to deepen reform and opening-up. Domestically, we will promote development and harmony. Externally, we will pursue cooperation and peace. We not only want our people to lead a more dignified and happy life, but also hope to make new and greater contribution to all mankind. Our vision for China's development has the following five components.

First, innovative development. We believe that innovation is the wellspring of human progress. Innovation leads to prosperity and holds the key to the future. I have noticed that although way ahead of others in science and technology, the United States still gives strategic priority to scientific and technological innovation. This is something that China should learn from. On our part, we are working faster to transform the extensive economic development pattern featuring heavy reliance on energy and resource consumption. To this end, we are promoting research and development of core technologies in such fields as energy, environmental protection, electronics, information, bio-medicine and equipment manufacturing. We are using advanced technologies to transform traditional industries, developing strategic emerging industries, and encouraging science and technology to contribute more to economic development. In the past five years, the central government's spending on science and technology grew by an annualized 20%; it will increase further in the future. We will promote reform in the administrative system of science and technology, training innovative talents and creating a social environment that stimulates innovation. Here I wish to emphasize that we are taking forceful measures to equally protect domestic and foreign intellectual properties, and level the playing field through policy and institutional improvements. I believe that if US advanced technologies and China's vast market can be combined, there will be new highlights and growth areas in bilateral cooperation.

Second, green development. To build a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society is an important goal we have set. We will continue to advocate a green and low-carbon way of production and life, promote energy conservation and emission reduction, and protect the environment. In the past five years, investment by the Chinese government and enterprises to control environmental pollution grew by 90%, energy consumption per unit of GDP in China dropped by 19%, and newly-increased forest in China accounted for half of the global increases. Going forward, we will actively support the use of clean energy and renewable energy including solar and wind power. We are promoting the use of over 1,000 new-energy buses in each of the 25 selected cities in China and the use of energy-saving bulbs in the public lighting of over 50 cities. In the next five years, we will plant 12.5 million hectares of trees to improve the eco-environment of the land and increase forest carbon sink. In short, we will make unremitting efforts to make the sky blue, mountains green and water clear.

Third, coordinated development. It is an important task for China to realize more coordinated development through an integrated approach. We will promote coordinated development of domestic and foreign demand and make the expansion of domestic demand, especially consumer demand, the main focus of economic development, so that our economy will be driven by consumption, investment and export all at the same time in a balanced way. China's domestic market has huge potential. The expansion of domestic demand will give a strong boost not only to China's own development but also to global growth. We will also promote balanced growth between urban and rural areas, between different regions and between the economy and society. By encouraging the rich to help the poor and providing more policy and financial support to the underdeveloped western regions, we will provide all residents, urban and rural, with access to quality public services and infrastructure.

Fourth, harmonious development. "Putting people first" is the governance philosophy of the Chinese government. China takes the improvement of people's well-being as the primary task of its economic and social development. We have enhanced social development by addressing the lagging areas and weak links, and worked hard to bring benefits to all the people. We see employment as vital to people's livelihood. In the next five years, we will create 45 million new jobs. We also give priority to education. Last year, we adopted the outline of a national plan for education for the next ten years. We focus on improving education fairness and quality, and the government will increase its spending in education by 50% in 2012 from the 2010 level. We will improve the social security system in the next five years. We will expand the coverage of medical insurance, old-age insurance and subsistence allowances, and increase the level of benefits so as to raise life expectancy in China by one year. We will construct 36 million subsidized housing units for the low-income group. This program will benefit 20% of the urban households. We will promote cultural development and improve the capacity of public cultural institutions so as to provide a greater variety of cultural products and make people's cultural life more colorful. We will cultivate healthy and civilized practices to meet the growing material and cultural demands of the people.

China believes that democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice are critical components of a harmonious society. We are upholding and improving the system of people's congresses, the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party, the system of regional ethnic autonomy and the system of people's self-governance at the primary level, and enriching and developing socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. We accept the views of the majority through elections and voting, and absorb the legitimate views of different sides and groups through political consultation in an effort to protect the lawful rights and interests of the people. There are eight political parties in China that participate in state affairs. Our minister of science and technology is from one of the eight parties, and our minister of health has no party affiliation. Direct election is conducted in all villagers' committees and urban communities in China. "Seeking the advice of netizens" is now a common expression used by government officials. There are 860 million cell phone subscribers, 460 million Internet users and 290 million bloggers in China. People can express their views through a variety of channels, and the government solicits views on the Internet before making important decisions. To give you an example, during the formulation of the outline of the national plan for education, by soliciting views online, we received over five million pieces of advice from across the society. Having experienced so many wars and hardships, the Chinese people know well that the national development and life improvement have not come easily. They greatly cherish social stability and harmony. A harmonious and stable China best serves the interests of the Chinese people and of countries around the world.

Fifth, peaceful development. China's rapid development in recent years has caught attention of the world. Some people have misgivings and misunderstanding about the direction of China's development. I can tell you that this is totally unnecessary. Over the years, China has been holding high the banner of peace, development and cooperation. We have followed an independent foreign policy of peace, embarked on the path of peaceful development and adopted a win-win strategy of opening-up. We seek a peaceful international environment for our own development, and strive to promote world peace and development through our development. This is underpinned by China's 5,000 years of history and cultural tradition which values peace, benevolence, good-neighborliness and inclusiveness. It is underpinned by our experience in the past 30 years and more of reform and opening-up and the realization that only peaceful development can lead to national prosperity. It is also underpinned by our understanding of the contemporary world. Six hundred years ago, China was at its economic apex, with a GDP accounting for 30% of the world's total. But when Zheng He, the famous navigator, led a grand fleet on seven voyages to the western seas, he took to the countries he visited porcelain, silk and tea without occupying even an inch of foreign land. Fast forward to today, economic globalization has turned the world into a global village. Secretary Clinton once cited a Chinese proverb during her visit to China in 2009, "crossing the river in the same boat". I, too, like this proverb very much. We are passengers in the same boat and our fortunes are irrevocably linked. China's development brings more opportunities to countries around the world. Even in the two years when the global financial crisis was most severe, over 70% of American companies still made a profit in China. Through its development, China has grown stronger and Chinese people are leading a better life. It has also given China the capability to shoulder more international responsibilities. China actively participates in the coordination and cooperation on various global issues, and has provided support to countries in difficulties during the financial crisis. To address climate change, China voluntarily committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels. China is the largest contributor of UN peacekeepers among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. All this shows that China is a country with a great sense of responsibility to the world, and a country that other nations can work with without any misgivings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this context, I would also like to share with you some personal observations on China-US relations and people-to-people exchanges. We live in a world where complex and profound changes continue to take place, destabilizing factors and uncertainties are increasing and new challenges and threats keep emerging. No country can tackle these issues alone or stay unscathed. China, the biggest developing country, and the United States, the biggest developed country, must come together. China-US coordination and cooperation has become indispensable in addressing many regional hotspot and global issues. China-US relations have increasingly become a strategic relationship with an impact on the whole world. During his visit to the United States last January, President Hu Jintao and President Obama mapped out a full blueprint of China-US relations in the new era. Both sides committed to build a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. This important agreement added a new dimension and charted the course for the growth of China-US relations at a new historical starting point. China is ready to work with the United States to earnestly implement the outcomes of President Hu's visit, strengthen dialogue, exchanges and cooperation in all fields, properly handle sensitive issues, increase strategic mutual trust, consolidate and expand the momentum of the positive growth of China-US relations, effective safeguard world peace and promote world development, and bring about a truly peaceful, harmonious and prosperous 21st century.

The Joint Statement issued during President Hu's visit includes people-to-people exchange as part of the China-US cooperative partnership. This is both far-sighted and highly relevant. Over the past 40 years, our bilateral relations have grown beyond people's expectations. The mainstream of our relationship is good, but it is not without ups and downs or twists and turns. One of the reasons is the lack of exchanges and understanding between our people. With the personal guidance and strong support of our two presidents, we established the High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange last year, providing a new platform for intensifying exchanges between our people. People-to-people exchanges are a long-term endeavor. Therefore it requires both sides to stand high, have the whole picture in mind, and take active and results-oriented steps to elevate our people-to-people exchanges to a new height so that it will become another important pillar of China-US relations together with political trust and economic cooperation. I suggest that we make greater efforts in the following four areas.

First, we need to be more conscious of the importance of people-to-people exchanges to solid and lasting friendship. People-to-people exchanges are about communication between people and more importantly dialogue between hearts. According to ancient Chinese sayings, "Amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states", "True friends understand each other's heart", and "Sincerity is vital to a lasting friendship". History tells us that the steady growth of state-to-state relations can only be achieved with wide public support. Both China and the United States need to bear this in mind and actively create conditions for people-to-people exchanges. We can enhance understanding and friendship through face-to-face interactions, promote social progress through mutual learning between civilizations and broaden public support for good relations through understanding and trust between people. With such a foundation, China-US relations will not be affected or held back by any particular event at any particular time, and our efforts to preserve lasting friendship will not be easily swayed.

Second, we need to develop a spirit of mutual respect, openness and inclusiveness in people-to-people exchanges. Respect, understanding and inclusiveness are the basic principles guiding people-to-people exchanges. China and the United States differ in cultural tradition, stage of development and social system. But this should by no means stand in the way of our cooperative partnership. We have far more commonalities than differences. It is therefore important to have mutual respect and equality in our exchanges and deepen understanding through candid sharing of views. We should seek common ground while reserving differences and seek harmony without uniformity. We should step up cooperation, view our differences in a sensible way and seek maximum consensus.

Third, we need to carry out wide-ranging exchange activities with clear priorities. Yesterday, Secretary Clinton and I agreed that China and the United States would promote in-depth exchanges in such priority areas as education, science and technology, culture, sports and between women and young people. We hope that the exchange activities will speak to both the quality and width of our people-to-people exchanges and create as many bright spots as possible. The Chinese government has decided to launch three "10,000 project" s. In the coming four years, China will sponsor 10,000 American college students to study in China, implement the "Chinese Bridge" study program for 10,000 Americans in China, and send 10,000 PhD candidates to the US on Chinese government scholarship. On the US side, you have the "100,000 Strong Initiative". I hope to see more MIT students among the 10,000 American students who will benefit from our program and come to China. The two sides will support our respective leading universities in building teaching and research cooperation platforms; encourage exchange of visits by teachers and principals of elementary schools, high schools and universities; and set up bilateral exchange programs for women leaders and young leaders. In this year and the next, we will hold a series of events featuring Chinese culture in the United States to introduce Chinese history, traditions and contemporary culture to the Americans.

Fourth, we need to build a structure for people-to-people exchanges that involves both the government and the general public and welcomes all kinds of players. It is not enough to just rely on government efforts. Only by making the public the main participant can we sustain the vitality of our exchanges. The two sides need to find more channels, stay open and create better conditions to draw schools, businesses and local communities into these exchange programs, so as to get everyone involved in the cause of promoting China-US friendship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Universities are where diverse cultures converge and, as such, should play a bigger role in people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States. Through nearly a millennium of development, modern universities have gradually assumed three key functions: teaching, research and serving the society. In the 21st century, cross-cultural exchanges should become another important function of universities.

We are happy to see that MIT is leading this trend. Each year a large number of brilliant Chinese students are enrolled at MIT. Qian Xuesen, the renowned physicist; Meng Shaonong, the father of China's automobile industry; and I. M. Pei, the renowned Chinese American architect, all studied here. And Samuel Chao Chung Ting, the winner of Nobel Prize in physics, is a professor at MIT. MIT has had a long and fruitful history of exchanges and cooperation with my alma mater Tsinghua University, which will celebrate its centenary this year. I recall that as early as in 1984, MIT and Tsinghua organized a summer course called "Beijing Urban Planning and Architectural Design". Nowadays, every year, MIT students would cycle around to explore traces of history and interact with local residents in the old hutongs in the company of Tsinghua students. This is a good example of cross-cultural exchanges between Chinese and American students. In 2009, MIT, Tsinghua and Cambridge University forged the Low Carbon Energy Alliance, a shining example of international cooperation between universities. I hope there will be greater affinity between universities and their faculties and students on both sides. They can be the pioneers in people-to-people exchanges, contribute to our friendly relations and help build a harmonious world.

I wish to conclude by quoting your motto "Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand)". For me, "mind" means ideas and "hand" means actions. In a rapidly changing world, we must not hesitate to seize the opportunities for growing China-US relations. The mechanism on China-US people-to-people exchanges are now in place. All we need now is action. Let us all be part of this worthy cause. Thank you.


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