Transcript of Ambassador Cui Tiankai's Interview with Reuters
2018/11/28

On November 27, Ambassador Cui Tiankai had an interview with Reuters correspondents in Washington DC on topics including upcoming leaders meeting, China-U.S. relations and bilateral trade issues, etc. The full transcript is as follows:

   

Reuters: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Ambassador, for sparing time to do a television interview and a long roundtable. Obviously, we're here ahead of the G20. Could you just tell us how important this meeting is, especially the planned meeting between President Trump and President Xi? Some people said this is the most important one in a year, some people suggesting even a make or break that will define a relationship for years to come. How important do you think?

Ambassador Cui: Well, first of all, I think the G20 itself is very important for the global economy because this is a collective response to the international financial crisis which happened ten years ago. And this has been a very effective multilateral mechanism in global economic governance. So we want to have a successful G20 Summit.

And of course, on the sidelines of this G20 Summit in Argentina, President Xi Jinping will be meeting with President Trump. I think this is their only face-to-face meeting for this year. So there's a very high expectation that the two leaders will give us clear guidance about where the relationship should be going in the future, and will give also visible guidance to the work teams to address some of the specific issues between the two sides, including some of the trade issues. So now we are working very closely with the White House, with the State Department and others to make full preparation for this meeting. And I think we have the responsibility to make it not to break it.

Reuters: What do you anticipate will actually be accomplished at this meeting? You're looking for sort of lowering the temperature, perhaps backing off the tariffs? Will President Xi directly appeal to President Trump to freeze the tariffs and not raise them in January, not impose them on the rest of the Chinese imports.

Ambassador Cui: I think the main purpose of this meeting between the two Presidents is to give the overall strategic and political guidance to the China-U.S. relationship. And on that basis, the work teams of the two sides could focus on specific issues. I don't think the two leaders would have the time to get so involved in some specific and very technical issues.

Reuters: How would you describe the personal relationship between President Xi and President Trump? Obviously, they had two very high profile summits in the past. Both of them talked about the personal relationship. Has that been damaged in any way by the events of recent months (like) this trade war that we've seen? Is it gonna be also a matter of rebuilding some sort of trust between the two leaders?

Ambassador Cui: I think between President Xi and President Trump, there is clearly a very good working relationship and personal friendship. You see over the last couple of years, they have had three meetings in Mar-a-lago, in Hamburg, Germany last year also on the occasion of G20, then just one year ago, President Trump had a very good state visit to China. And also they have had numerous phone calls and exchanges of correspondence. The latest phone call was (on) November 1st. They had a very long and friendly conversation on the phone. So the fact is that this is very important for the relationship, because between the two countries we have a growing and complex and comprehensive relationship. It needs political guidance from the top. And fortunately, we have two Presidents giving this guidance. I have full confidence that this will continue.

Reuters: So, the U.S. officials have been telling journalists privately that the Chinese response to most trade demands is insufficient. What do you think will happen? What will China do if this takes place? If these tariffs go, what's China's response?

Ambassador Cui: You see, we certainly don't want to see any trade war with anybody else, certainly not the United States, and we want to have a negotiated solution to the current issue. But the key to this solution is a balanced approach to the concerns of both sides. We can not accept that one side would put forward a number of demands, and the other side just has to satisfy all these things. We have to look at the concerns of both sides in a very balanced way, and try to find out a mutually beneficial and mutually acceptable solution.

Reuters: What is China prepared to do to lower the temperature in the area of trade?

Ambassador Cui: It will require some efforts from both sides. China can not do this all by itself.

Reuters: Were you expecting from the United States?

Ambassador Cui: Of course, because we were not the one that started or initiated the rise of temperature. We certainly want to see the temperature go down, but it would need efforts of both sides.

Reuters: Would that require a ceasefire on the tariffs? Not raising them, not imposing them on the rest of the goods.

Ambassador Cui:I think it requires good will and good faith.

Reuters: Do you see good will and good faith coming out of the White House at the moment?And how big a risk is there that this whole important relationship could go back? We had Mike Pence's speech which seemed to attack China across the board. We have talk coming from the U.S. officials about possibly sending aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Strait. We have near collisions going on in the South China Sea. And obviously, we've got this trade relationship and the trade relationship goes wrong. How big the risk is and how bad can it get?

Ambassador Cui: I think it would be extremely irresponsible and dangerous for people to try to use such coercion, intimidation, and try to push the relationship in the wrong direction. This is very dangerous. I don't think it will help anybody. It will hurt the interests of both countries, and it will certainly hurt the interests of the larger international community. So hopefully people in important positions would behave in a responsible way.

Reuters: Do you trust all the different parts of the administration to actually look at this seriously? There are some factions more in favor of negotiations and others such as Peter Navarro would be quite opposed to negotiating with China.

Ambassador Cui: Well we are ready to work with anybody who represent the United States government, who represent the President. We are ready to work with all these people. And of course, building up mutual confidence is an ongoing process.

Reuters: What sort of retaliatory measures could China possibly take in response to tariffs. China is the major buyer of the U.S. treasury bonds. It's a question that often comes up, is it possible that there could be a change in China's stance towards those approaches?

Ambassador Cui: I think first of all, we have to look at what will happen to us. Then we'll decide what would be the best means to safeguard our legitimate interest. But we have always acted and reacted in a very responsible way, responsible to our own interest, also responsible to the common interest between our two countries and the larger common interest of entire international community.

Reuters: Coming back to the G20. Obviously, the meeting between President Xi and Trump will be the dominant news event there, but there will be a G20 meeting going on. Do you anticipate that there will be a communique issued at that meeting? What does China want to see that communique say?

Ambassador Cui: We certainly want to have a successful G20 summit. and we will do everything possible to help our host Argentina to accomplish that. For any communique to come out from the summit, it will require the support and understanding and commitment of all the G20 members. China is certainly ready to do that. We will do whatever we can to help our host, to help the group to reach an agreement on important issues, because we believe that will help people to have much better confidence in the global economic prospects, and in prospects of major country relationship. But other countries have to do the same.

Reuters: Have you encountered resistance from the United States in regard to a communique?

Ambassador Cui: Well, you see, there are different mechanisms, different process in the G20 about this possible document, communique or statement or whatever. People are still working very hard on this. You have the financial channel. You have the so-called Sherpa. I used to be a Chinese Sherpa a few years ago. So it requires a lot of work, and people are working very hard on this.

Reuters: When you look at the White House, do you see a unified approach to China policy? Do you think it's coherent? Sometimes we may notice different signals coming from different parts of it. And what do you think the hard liners in the White House want to achieve? Do you think that they are actually trying to separate the Chinese economy from the U.S. economy and completely reevaluate the relationship?

Ambassador Cui: Well, I think it's the job of the United States government to have a coherent voice. It's not our job. I don't think it's possible, certainly not very helpful, to try to disengage or decouple the two economies. We are the two largest economies in the world. How can you really disengage these two economies? We are so interdependent and we have shared responsibility to the global economy. I don't know if people really realize the possible consequence, the impact, the negative impact, if there is such a decoupling.

Reuters: And that negative consequence, I mean, could that (be) sort of (the economy being) pushes into a low growth scenario or even recession globally?

Ambassador Cui: you are right. You see, the lesson of history is still there. In the last century, we had two world wars and in between them great depression. I don't think anybody should really try to have repetition of history. These things should never happen again. So people have to act in a responsible way.

Reuters: You are referring to 1930s, a trade war scenario and the Smoot–Hawley Tariffs. Is that something that China is quite concerned about, going into that kind of mode.

Ambassador Cui: I think many people are concerned. I have read books and articles written by Americans. They are very concerned about such possibility. I think these are very legitimate concerns.

Reuters: So you actually (concern about) the scenario where you could actually have all out conflict between China and the United States?

Ambassador Cui: I think this is unimaginable. And the two governments, two peoples have to do everything possible to prevent this from happening.

Reuters: Obviously, President Trump is very fond of headlines, especially a positive one. President Xi must be aware of that and is it possible that he would come to the G20 summit to (meet with) President Trump with a headline in his pocket?

Ambassador Cui: Sometimes maybe we are having too many headlines. Maybe the media should focus more on some of the global challenges, global issues, the concern and expression of the people of all countries in the world. We do have such growing number of global challenges, climate change, infectious diseases, natural disaster, and even the scientific and technological progress. They are good things of course, scientific and technological progress, it's very good for the mankind, but it also creates new challenges, new problems, sometimes uncertainties, like AI. Not many people are very sure what this would mean to their daily life. So I think governments of all countries, certainly the media, shall have more focus on these real issues that people are faced with in the real life, not something like imaginary competitor, rivalry or adversary. I think people, some people have the tendency of imagining too many bad things, and sometimes they're frightened and scared by their own imagination.

Reuters: The United States is making ...(inaudible) demands on China, let's say trade dispute, 142 of them. Chinese officials have sort of divided them up into three buckets, things that could be done soon, things could be for negotiation for future, and things that China can never do. What can you tell us about that last category? What is it? What types of things that China cannot really do. Are you talking about security?

Ambassador Cui: Well, I don't have the list with me, but I think for all countries, China and the United States included, all of us have national security concerns. All of us have fundamental or vital national interests, which cannot be violated. And it's the responsibility of any government to safeguard the vital interests or core interests of its country. So China would do the same. But we are, at the same time, we are doing everything possible to look at the legitimate concerns of the U.S. business and U.S. government. And we're trying very hard to do whatever we can to accommodate their concerns, trying to address their concerns in a mutually beneficial way. At the same time, we have also raised our own concerns, and we believe that the key to a negotiation and solution of the trade issues is a balanced approach to the concerns of both sides. And honestly, so far I have not seen sufficient response from the U.S. side to our concerns.

Reuters: If you talk about the United States administration politicizing issues, you say, the sanctioning of big Chinese companies. And we've got to talk about the possibility of sanctions on a senior politburo (member) or measure over the situation in Xinjiang. How does China view that possibility? And how might it react if that would take place?

Ambassador Cui: You see, Xinjiang is a part of China, so whatever happens there is domestic affair of China. I guess the current administration in the United States is strongly against any interference in the domestic politics of any country. And the same principle should apply to China. And besides, whatever we are doing in China is aimed at combating the spread of the terrorism, because this is a great threat to stability and to the safety of the people there. Such terrorist groups, over the years, have killed numerous innocent people, civilians! And they are threatening people's basic safety. They are threatening people's lives. So we have to do something to respond to such terrorist threats. This is what we are doing in Xinjiang. And besides, as I said, this is just domestic situation in China. Hopefully, the American side will follow the same principle it is advocated that there should be no external interference in domestic affairs of any country.

Reuters: There's been a number of U.S. taking actions...U.S. companies put (such as) Fujian Jinhua...on sort of export control list. There's an investigation right now going on into Huawei's activities. How concerned are you (about this) adding sort of a whole new element into the trade conflict between China and the U.S.? What is China prepared to do if further actions are taken against the national champion companies in China?

Ambassador Cui: I think these actions are disrupting the function of the market and they are certainly weakening the rule-based multilateral trading regime. Clearly, these are unilateral and protectionist measures. We are against the measures. So people cannot keep telling us that we should let the market have normal functioning,the government should not interfere too much into the market, and at the same time they are just doing exactly these things.

Reuters: The final question is that we've had sort of unprecedented access to Chinese officials in recent weeks. China certainly is trying to get this message out, more about inside this issue. What is the message that China is trying to send to American politicians and policymakers. And is there a concern that there could be a backlash against this given President Trump's accusations that China is trying to meddling U.S. politics?

Ambassador Cui: You see, all we are doing here is to help the Americans, politician or just average Americans, to have a better understanding of China, the history of China, culture of China, the realities of today's China, and what the Chinese people need and what their aspirations are. So whatever we are doing here is just to help them to acquire such a better and more objective, more comprehensive understanding of China. Nothing more than that. Of course, maybe some people just refuse to have such an understanding. That is their choice. But they should stop putting all the blames on China, they should also stop demonizing China, because they just don't understand China.

Reuters: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much!

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