Keynote Speech by Ambassador Qin Gang at the Commemoration for the 50th Anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s Visit to China
24 February 2022
The Honorable Secretary Elaine Chao,
Ambassador James Stapleton Roy,
Mr. Christopher Nixon Cox,
Mr. Jim Byron,
Mr. Ming Xie,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to join you here, at the library named after President Richard Nixon, in his hometown, to commemorate his historic visit to China and the issuance of Shanghai Communique 50 years ago. I wish to thank the Nixon Foundation for the invitation, and my thanks also go to the sponsors contributing to the wonderful evening. I wish to pay high tribute to President Nixon and the elder generation of Chinese and American leaders who made extraordinary contribution to the establishment and development of China-US relations. Among them were Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, whose statues are in display right in this museum. I also extend sincere appreciation to Dr. Kissinger, the family of President Nixon and all those who have been supporting and promoting the growth of China-US relations.
The week of February 21 to 28, 1972 would always be etched in the annals of history. With the idea that “we came in peace for all mankind”, President Nixon visited China, a trip he considered as sacred and lofty as the moon landing of mankind. The week would be remembered in history, as the handshake between Premier Zhou Enlai and President Nixon at Beijing Capital Airport came over the vastest ocean in the world, breaking the ice of more than 20 years of no communication. The week would be remembered for the issuance of Shanghai Communique, which started the normalization of China-US relations. The week would be remembered also because that visit stood for the easing of relations between the East and the West. The forces for peace were strengthened and the international strategic landscape was shifted. It was a week “that changed the whole world”.
History is our best guide. It faithfully records the past journey, and gives us inspiration for the future. President Nixon’s pragmatic diplomacy culminated in this monumental visit 50 years ago, and his legacy still serves as an important reference today.
First, extraordinary strategic vision. Chairman Mao said in his meeting with President Nixon, we should talk about “philosophical issues”. What he meant was that China and the US should take a strategic and long-term view of relations. President Nixon also envisaged building “a new and better world”. Therefore, the two leaders, with a masterly grasp of the shifting international landscape, put the interests of their nations and peoples before the differences in ideology and political system to end over two decades of antagonism and hostility, and opened the gate of China-US relations.
Second, huge political courage. All things are difficult before they are easy. Estrangement persisted between China and the US from 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded to the early 1970s, and took some hard efforts to break. Chairman Mao met with Edgar Snow and his wife on the Tian’anmen Rostrum on October 1, 1970, sending a positive and friendly message to the US side. In 1971, he decided to invite the US table tennis team to visit China to “move the big ball with the small ball”. President Nixon picked up on this gesture. Despite all the pressure and obstacles, he first staged some diplomatic minuets, asked Dr. Kissinger to make a secret visit to China, and then paid a decisive visit to the People’s Republic of China himself, becoming a well-deserved “icebreaker” in China-US relations.
Third, exceptional diplomatic wisdom. Premier Zhou Enlai said, “The social systems of China and the United States are fundamentally different, and there exist great differences between the Chinese Government and the United States Government. However, these differences should not hinder China and the United States from establishing normal state relations on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.” President Nixon said, “We must recognize that the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the United States have had great differences.” “What brings us together is that we have common interests which transcend those differences.” His visit is just a classical example of diplomacy featuring respecting each other, seeking common ground and reserving differences between our two countries.
On Taiwan, China and the US properly handled the key question after lengthy and difficult consultations, and at the center is the one-China principle. It was the biggest consensus that the two sides could reach at that time. Without the one-China principle, there would have been no joint communiques that form the political foundation of China-US relations, and there would have been no normalization of the relations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fifty years is only a flash in the long history of the world. But so much has changed. The Cold War has been past us for over 30 years. Globalization has transformed the world economic landscape. The Internet and other new technologies have made our planet a global village. At the same time, COVID-19 has made us clearly aware that people in this world share weal and woe together.
The China-US relationship has also undergone tremendous changes. Over the past 43 years of diplomatic relations, China and the US have grown into a close-knit community with inseparable economic interests, our people have developed unbreakable ties, and we are both important stakeholders in international system. China-US relations have become just “too big to fail”. At the same time, the Cold-War mentality is still doing harm. Ice is forming again, and sending chills.
With all this, the China-US relationship has come to another historical juncture. We are entering a new round of mutual exploration, understanding and adaptation, trying to find a way to get along with each other in the new era. President Xi Jinping pointed out that whether China and the US can handle their relations well bears on the future of the world. It is a question of the century to which the two countries must provide a good answer.?
I came to the US at this challenging time. It is said that President Nixon practiced using chopsticks as preparations for his visit to China. Compared with him, I had to prepare more. I took a rollercoaster ride at Universal Studios Beijing. I also visited Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai, the birthplace of Shanghai Communique, and then set off to the US.
Before I came to California, I visited Dr. Kissinger in New York to listen to his ideas about what people can learn from President Nixon’s visit. He said, President Nixon had a strong understanding and keen judgment on the situation. He also told me President Nixon was good at taking a historical perspective into foreign policy making. His dialogue with Chinese leaders focused on the world order, instead of specific issues, so that those differences would not stand in the way of our relations. Looking at him, a young man who is younger than 100 years old, I asked myself, how can our generation carry on the diplomatic legacy of Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou, President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger? If the rapprochement 50 years ago was because we shared the strategic need to counter our common threat, and our common interests outweighed our differences, then 50 years later, do we still have that basis to develop our relations? What are our common interests? And who is our “common enemy”?
My answer is, our common interests have never been as extensive as today. They are the over 750 billion dollars of annual trade and millions of jobs in both countries supported by such trade. They are the over 70,000 American companies investing in China, an array of container ships moored in Los Angeles ports that go between China and the US, the 300,000 Chinese students studying in America, and our citizens who made five million mutual visits every year before COVID-19. They are the more than 280 pairs of sister provinces, states and cities between us. The list can go on and on, and they are the bonds that keep us together. Our common “enemy” should be the major challenges concerning the survival and development of both countries and mankind, such as climate change, energy security, food security, global development gap, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, cyberattacks, emerging technologies getting out of control, regional hotspots. The new “Cold War” should not be used to define the time we live in. Competition and confrontation should not be the keynote of China-US relations.
There is no denying that China and the US do compete. But how should the competition play out? I congratulate Los Angeles Rams for winning the Super Bowl this year. But China-US relations should not be like the intensely confrontational American football match. There should be no offensive team or defensive team, no touchdown, no quarterback sack. At the just concluded Beijing Winter Olympics, when Chinese and American athletes competed, they just both gave out their best performances, and at the same time supported each other, cheered for each other. A pair of Chinese curling players who lost to their American competitors presented them with gifts, and an American skier congratulated her Chinese counterpart who won gold with a warm hug and told her “I’m so proud of you”. Watching their interactions, I think you will agree that there is no loser here, all are winners. Just as the US side stated in the Shanghai Communique, “Countries should treat each other with mutual respect and be willing to compete peacefully, letting performance be the ultimate judge.” President Nixon also said when referring to Ping-Pong diplomacy, despite there being winners and losers in the table tennis tournament, the real winner “will be the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of the People’s Republic of China.”
When visiting the Great Wall, President Nixon said, “we hope maybe that the walls that are erected, whether they are physical walls like this, or whether they are other walls of ideology or philosophy, will not divide peoples in the world, that regardless of people’s differences in backgrounds and their philosophy, we’ll have an opportunity to communicate with each other, to know each other and to share with each other.” As the world’s two largest economies and permanent members of the UN Security Council, it’s simply impossible for China and the US to stay in confrontation, hostility or estrangement, and any of these will cause unbearable damage to both countries and the world.
There must be rules for competition. Shanghai Communique and the other two Sino-US Joint Communiques are the rules that both sides must follow. The one-China principle is the unshakable political foundation for China-US relations, and a red line that must not be crossed. To realize China’s complete reunification is a common aspiration and strong will of the entire Chinese people. This is determined by the trajectory of the Chinese nation, and no one can go against it. We are ready to realize peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts. “Taiwan independence” separatist forces are the biggest obstacle to China’s reunification. If they are allowed to go down the dangerous path, risks for tension will be heightened. To maintain peace and stability, the US side should honor its commitments on the Taiwan question, and work with China to oppose and contain ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.
As two countries with different history, culture, social system and development stage, it is normal for China and the US to differ. But just as President Nixon said, “What we must do is to find a way to see that we can have differences without being enemies in war”. Communication and dialogue is a wise choice to resolve differences, a correct way to establish mutual trust and an effective means to reduce misjudgment. At the same time, our two sides should manage differences in a rational and constructive way, and not create problems or enlarge differences, still less should we let China-US relations get out of control or off track.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
President Xi Jinping pointed out that China and the US must respect each other, coexist peacefully and pursue win-win cooperation. This is a guideline developed with historical wisdom and directing the future path. Let’s work together to take the China-US relationship back to the right track as soon as possible, so as to deliver greater benefits to the people of our two countries and meet the expectations of the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fifty years ago, when President Nixon departed for his visit to China, he said to people who saw him off on the White House South Lawn, “If we can make progress toward that goal on this trip, the world will be a much safer world and the chance particularly for all of those 100 children over there to grow up in a world of peace will be infinitely greater.” The American boys and girls present on the South Lawn were only five or six years old, just as I was back then. There was a song popular in my childhood years called Sequoia. It extols the growth of Californian redwood, which was gifts of President Nixon to China and symbol of China-US friendship, from saplings to towering trees. I’m lucky to live through China’s reform and opening-up and the development of China-US ties in the following five decades, and to serve as the 11th Chinese Ambassador to the US now. I’m wondering about those boys and girls from 50 years ago, how are they today? I do hope to have a chance to meet them and their children, share with each other our perspectives of the 50 years of China-US relationship and its impact on each of us and look to its significance for the younger generation.
Last but not least, let me propose a toast,
To the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s visit to China and the issuance of Shanghai Communique,
To the health of Dr. Kissinger and all of you present,
And to the lasting peace and prosperity of our future generations,