Ambassador Cui Tiankai took an interview with Fareed Zakaria GPS (Transcript)
2021/02/08

On February 6, Ambassador Cui Tiankai took an interview with Fareed Zakaria GPS at CNN on China-US relations, COVID-19, national security law for Hong Kong, Xinjiang-related issues and more. The interview was aired on February 7. Here is the full transcript of the interview:

 

Zakaria: With me, now, Beijing's representative in Washington. Ambassador Cui Tiankai has been China's ambassador to the United States since 2013. He received a master's degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1987, and he walked his way up through China's Foreign Ministry all the way to the job ever since. Ambassador Cui, a pleasure to have you back on.

Ambassador Cui: Good morning, Fareed. So nice to see you.

Zakaria: We have that statement of President Biden in the speech. We also had an exchange of readouts, of descriptions of phone call that took place between America's top diplomat Antony Blinken and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi. It all seems pretty tough, and even the readouts have a lot of more tough language in them. Were you expecting a different start to the Biden foreign policy? It seems as though Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, said that the four years of the Trump administration had been the lowest point in US-China relations since the opening to China in the Nixon administration. Do you think there is a new atmosphere in Washington, or does it feel too more like the Biden administration is continuing some of Donald Trump's hardline policies?

Ambassador Cui: Fareed, I think there are a few basic things here. So let me try to make my points one by one. First of all, China's development, China's growth, has been made possible by the hard work of the Chinese people and our more than 40 years of reform and opening-up. This is a historical fact. To say otherwise is against the facts and certainly not fair to the Chinese people. Internationally, China always stands for the basic norms governing international relations as embodied in the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. We always support multilateral institutions, the international system centered on the United Nations, including, for instance, the WHO, the WTO and a number of others. We already contribute more troops than other permanent members of the Security Council to the UN peacekeeping operations. We are already contributing a great deal to the global economic growth. We're ready to do more. For instance, we're working with a number of other countries to confront the current pandemic, to restore economic growth globally. And hopefully and I believe there is such a need and potential for bilateral relations between China and the United States in all these areas, especially vis-à-vis the emerging or the existing global challenges, like climate change.

For the readout for the phone call yesterday, frankly, my impression is that this readout still shows the example of power rather than the power of example. You don't have an effective foreign policy just by talking tough or playing tough. This is not the right way of doing diplomacy. I think there is a clear need for good sense of mutual respect. People have to show good will and good faith. Of course, all countries have values and interests to defend. For China, national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, these are the core values and core interests we will defend, we will do whatever it takes to defend, no matter who says what.

Zakaria: But let me ask you, in some ways, this new tougher foreign policy, which has become a consensus, and there are something like 400 pieces of legislation in the House, in the United States Congress, that are aimed at, in some way, standing up to China. This new toughness comes in some part as a response to a new Chinese foreign policy, which has been itself much more aggressive. And you don't have to listen to the United States on this. If you ask the Australians, they find themselves facing a much more assertive China that is asking that Australian private think tanks do not do research that the Chinese government does not like. You find it when you talk to the Indians who feel that China made incursions on a disputed border along the Himalayas. You find it in Japan where they think that China has pushed further its claims on the Senkaku Islands in various ways. And of course you find it with Taiwan, Vietnam. So this is something that, this sense that China is flexing its muscles, is not one just felt in the United States. Is there a reason for this new Chinese foreign policy?

Ambassador Cui: I don't think we have an entirely new foreign policy. We have been very consistent in our foreign policy. It's an independent policy of peace. Of course we safeguard our sovereignty and independence. There's no doubt about that. But Fareed, please look at the map. All the issues you mentioned and some other issues, they are either part of Chinese territory or in places very close to China. So who is on the offensive, who is on the defensive, you just have a look at the map. They are all far away from the United States. The fact is, whenever you have a more involvement by the United States, you have greater instability, anywhere in the world. Look at the Middle East, look at some other places like Latin America. It's so obvious that when you are "rebalancing", or "pivoting", whatever the word might be, then there's more instability in that region.

Zakaria: If I may just interrupt you for a second, these places, maybe they are far from the United States, but they are not far from Australia, from India, from Vietnam, from Japan. And I don't take Washington's word for it, what I'm asking is, are you listening to your neighbors?

Ambassador Cui: You see, we have more than a dozen neighbors on the land and more across the sea. And over the course of history, inevitably there were disputes among the neighboring countries. This is the same thing anywhere in the world. But basically, China and its neighbors have been able to address these disputes and solve them through dialogue and negotiation. For instance, we concluded treaties and agreements with most of our neighbors on the land about the borders. It was all done by peaceful negotiations. We still have a couple of them left, but we're ready to work with them, negotiate with them, and in the meantime, maintain stability and tranquility in the areas. Without external involvement, it will be easier and more possible for the neighbors to solve the issues between themselves.

Zakaria: You mentioned the possibility of cooperation. And I want to ask you about two areas. One is climate change, which you mentioned, of course which is really very important to President Biden. In return for cooperation on climate change, would China expect the United States to be more understanding on other issues? I asked this because traditionally Chinese position has been there should never be linkage between issues, but are you now going to start linking progress on climate change to the United States being cooperative with China on certain other issues?

Ambassador Cui: Climate change is a global challenge. So what is at stake is the global community's interest, not only the interest of our two countries. Of course our two countries have to play an important role in international cooperation to confront this challenge. But this is a true global challenge. So we would very much welcome any initiative the United States would like to take to rejoin us, for instance in the Paris Accord, and in other international and multilateral efforts. In this sense, I don't think there should be any trade-off of cooperation on climate change with other things. Even in the last few years, when the United States stayed out of the Paris Accord, China was still doing what it had to do, what we believed was the right thing to do, for our own interest, but also in the interest of the global community. For instance, President Xi announced China's goal to reach peak emission before 2030 and to have carbon neutrality before 2060. We did all these things, even when the United States was against such international initiatives. Of course, we very much welcome the US to come back to rejoin us. But honestly, many people are asking themselves: Will the US change its policy in a few years' time again? Hopefully, this will not be the case.

Zakaria: Let me ask you about technology, because one of the areas that people worry that we are entering is a kind of technology "Cold War", or a decoupling, where we end up with the Chinese technology zone and a non-Chinese or Western or American one. Isn't it fair to say that part of this has happened because China has actually been the one that began this process by essentially banning most of America's major technology companies from participating in China,thinking of Google, Facebook. There are virtually none of America's major technology companies in China. And rather than opening up over time, liberalizing over time, as people expected, I think, in fact, the rules have gotten more restrictive in that area.

Ambassador Cui: Fareed, I think to be more accurate, all these companies, what they want is a major market share in China. I don't think their goal is to share technology with China, they just want to make money in the Chinese market. Of course they could come and we are open to all American companies. But there are existing and even mounting restrictions imposed by the United States government against all these free flow of technology and information. This has been the case for so many years, but especially for the last few years. I think technological progress should benefit everybody, the entire global community, and everybody in every society. But this issue has been so much politicized. This is very unfortunate.

 

Zakaria: Let me ask you about one of the most contentious issues that is going to confront US-China relations, and that is what is going on in Xinjiang. You know, now President Biden has described it as genocide, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo did so. And the new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said he agrees with that judgment. I know you've been on the show before and said that this is inaccurate. Is there a way for China to allow an international group of observers free and total access and interviews to any and all the Uyghurs groups that they want, to determine whether or not these claims about a cultural genocide are true?

Ambassador Cui: Fareed, the fact is, in the last few years, there have been more than 1,200 people, journalists, diplomats, from more than 100 countries, some of them Muslim countries, all these foreign visitors have visited Xinjiang. You cannot say none of them are independent. You cannot say they don't make any observation. They have seen the facts on the ground very clearly. Why don't people listen to these people? And the real threat, the real threat in Xinjiang, up until very recently, was very clear. First, the threat of terrorism. There were thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, hurting and even killing thousands of innocent people from all ethnic groups, Han people, Uyghur people and others. So people have a strong demand that their safety and security should be guaranteed. That's what we have done in the last few years. Now, for the last 3 to 4 years, there has been no single case of terrorist attack. So people have a much better sense of security and safety now.

Another issue we are addressing in Xinjiang is poverty. You have to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty. And we provide training, we provide job opportunities. Now more people have more jobs, have better income, and they could lead a better life. It's ridiculous to say that there is forced labor there, because people want jobs. You just go out and talk to the people who have lost jobs here in this country. Do they need jobs?Of course they do. How can you ask people to stay in unemployment and stay in poverty? This is not fair to them. What has happened is elimination of poverty. People have more jobs, better income, and a better life. As for the so-called genocide, the fact is, in the last four decades or so, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has more than doubled. From the year 2010 to 2018 alone, the Uyghur population growth in Xinjiang was 25%, much higher than the average growth rate in the entire Xinjiang Region. These are facts.

Zakaria: You said that we should listen to independent observers. It's very hard for journalists to get there, but the BBC had a team that went in and came back with some horrifying reports of labor camps that look like prison camps and of guards who engaged in everything from sexual abuse to rape, to murder. Again, I ask you about your response to that, but again, the simplest way to deal with this would be to welcome a group from human rights organizations like Amnesty International or others to come in and make a thorough evaluation, because otherwise, you do have independent reports such as the existing one from the BBC only a week ago.

Ambassador Cui: Most of their sources are not trustworthy. I've been to Xinjiang myself, more than once in the last few years. I have seen all these things with my own eyes. I even visited some of the vocational training centers. They are just like a campus. Not a labor camp, but campus. I don't know how the BBC people got all the wrong information or misinformation. But you see if you look at their track record, maybe you should not have total trust of what they say.

Zakaria: Let me ask you about Hong Kong. Rather than put it in my words, Ambassador, let me put this in the words and let me quote from Jerome Cohen, one of the oldest friends of China, studying Chinese law since the 1950s, and always regarded as one of the great well-wishers of China. He says, and I'm quoting out, "the succession of Hong Kong-related edicts issued by China's legislative body, as well as the prompt implementation of that legislation under the guidance of newly installed central government secret police and officials, have neutered Hong Kong's Legislative Council, eliminated prospects for free elections, limited the powers of independent courts, intimidated the media, intensified patriotism in public education, restricted academic freedom and authorized totalitarian surveillance. The moves have created an unprecedented local climate of inhibition and fear". Now that, as I say, is Jerome Cohen.

Ambassador Cui: First of all, Jerome Cohen is an old friend of ours. I wish him well. I have not seen him for quite a while because of the pandemic. Hopefully I could talk to him in person very soon. It does not mean what he says is always right. I think the fundamental issue with regard to Hong Kong is very clear. Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Hong Kong is part of China, a Special Administration Region in China. Hong Kong is governed in accordance with Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law of Hong Kong.

Our policy, our practice is "One Country Two systems". But in order for the "Two Systems" to exist and prosper, you have to make sure this "One Country" has security, has territorial integrity. If the sovereignty of this "One Country" is challenged, both systems, the system in mainland of China and the system in Hong Kong, will be seriously threatened. This is a very basic issue.

Zakaria: But you know, you say that China adheres to international law, and I realize it is not technically international law, but there was an agreement made at the time of the handover of Hong Kong. And I think most international experts would say that China is now violating the terms of that agreement.

Ambassador Cui:That joint statement, I think you use the right word, that joint statement was for the handover. It's done. It's completed. We made provisions in our Constitution. We have the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Hong Kong's governance is based on the framework of the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law, not the joint statement.

Zakaria: Let me ask you about a question that keeps coming up, which is, was the Coronavirus accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan? People who make these charges, to be clear, do not have strong evidence, but that's largely because China has not allowed teams of medical researchers to go in and they have not shared data on that. So let me just ask you this on the theory that the truth will eventually come out. Would you categorically say that from all China's investigations, the Coronavirus emerged from a wet market in Wuhan and not from the Wuhan virology institute lab?

Ambassador Cui: I think when people make accusations, they have to prove these accusations. And to say these things at the time when we're still faced with the pandemic is against the spirit of humanitarianism. Besides, now an expert group from the WHO is working in Wuhan with their Chinese counterpart. They are working very hard. They are trying to look at all the facts. We are very supportive to their work. I have also participated in some of the conferences between experts of two countries. They are real scientists. They are looking at the whole pandemic from the point of view of scientists, not any politicians. I think people have to be careful not to make groundless accusations. Also, there have been a number of media reports about early cases in other places in the world. So there's a certainly need for more tracing to be done all over the world in order to really trace down the origin of the virus. So the human race could be better prepared when we are faced with another virus again. So please do not politicize the whole issue. Please let the scientists do their professional job.

Zakaria: And will scientists be allowed full access to China from the WHO?

Ambassador Cui: They are already in Wuhan. They have been in Wuhan for quite a few days. My questions is, will they be allowed to come here to do the same thing?

Zakaria: Let me ask you finally, Ambassador, after I've asked you a lot of the kind of questions that are being asked in America, tell us what the atmosphere in China is. You have navigated COVID, your economy is back. How do the Chinese foreign policy elites and the Chinese people view their relationship with America right now?

Ambassador Cui: China is still developing country. Although we have made great achievements over the years, but we know the challenges are still there, huge challenges. We have to continue to work hard to solve all of these domestic problems. We have just lifted everybody out of absolute poverty, but we have to make sure they will not fall back into poverty. This is a very huge challenge. We're also doing our best to improve the environment, to respond to issues like climate change and all these natural disasters. We do have a large number of natural disasters in China, like the situation in the United States.So we are still focusing our efforts on domestic economic and social development to give people the possibility of a better life. Internationally, we stand for building together with other countries a global community with a shared future.

This is our domestic and foreign policy basically. We certainly are ready to work with everybody else, including the United States. What has happened in our relations, what has been done by the United States, especially in the last few years, has antagonized the Chinese public very much. This is the truth. But I'm still confident if both sides could make the right choice, if we can put the relations back on a stable and constructive track, there's a great potential and opportunity for our two countries, our two great peoples, to work together for mutual benefit and for the common benefit of the entire world.

Zakaria: Ambassador, it is so important for us to hear from you. And thank you very much for coming on.

Ambassador Cui: Thank you very much.

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