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Foreign Minister Wang Yi's Exclusive Interview With the Financial Times
2014-01-29

  On 24 January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos, Switzerland, gave an exclusive interview to Zhang Lifen, Associate Editor of the Financial Times and Editor-in-Chief of FTChinese.com. The following is a transcript of the interview.

  Zhang Lifen: Foreign Minister Wang Yi, welcome to Davos for the World Economic Forum annual meeting. I know you are the first Chinese foreign minister to come to Davos. It has been a year since President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang took office, and there has been a great deal of interest in China's new diplomatic thinking and ideas. My first question for you is: what is the most important message you have brought with you to Davos?

  Wang Yi: I am here in Davos mainly to tell the China story. By so doing, I hope to spread China's confidence in its own future, which will bring benefit to people across the world. The China story is the greatest success story of our times. First, it falls upon us the Chinese to tell our success story well. And then, we hope that media organizations will write about China with a great sense of responsibility and in a more objective light.

  In telling the world about China's success story, the most important thing in my view is to make good explanations in response to the myriad of speculations about China's future. We have heard from time to time people talking down the Chinese economy and China's development. For example, China has achieved a 7.7% GDP growth rate in the course of economic structural adjustment. This is no mean feat. But still, some people have raised doubts about it. So we need to tell the world about China's success story and, more importantly, explain clearly the reasons and driving force behind its success story and pass on to the world China's confidence in its own future.

  China has at least three unique advantages that other countries don't share. First, a huge market. In population terms, the Chinese market is nearly four times that of the United States. By now, the US market has been dubbed market of the world. I believe that as time goes by, China will offer an even bigger market to the world.

  China's development is uneven, especially between its eastern and western regions and between urban and rural areas. This is a challenge we have to address. But this very challenge has also brought us hope and demand. The massive demand that comes with China's development will be unleashed wave upon wave, from eastern China to its western hinterland. This is a main driving force behind the sustained growth of the Chinese economy.

  The second unique advantage China enjoys is its ruling party. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has 86 million members, including many outstanding people. China's system of selecting and appointing officials is very effective. First, our election system is not about street campaigns and one-off voting but multiple voting by different groups of people. Besides, our democratic consultation system requires comprehensive consultation with people from various sectors. A fusion of these two systems has ensured that Chinese officials are rich in experience and capable in governance. With the synergy of over 80 million party members, I don't see any difficulty that cannot be surmounted.

  Our third unique advantage is the effective development path that suits China's national conditions. We have found this path after years of exploration. Some call it the “Chinese model”. A very important aspect concerning the Chinese path is proper management of the relationship among reform, development and stability. For China, a developing country, development is the primary task. Development is to be ensured by a stable social environment and boosted by reform.

  We are now working to upgrade the relationship among the three. Regarding development, we will completely change the past pattern of development and truly take a green, circular and sustainable approach. This will help us overcome the middle-income trap.

  With respect to reform, the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee introduced a package plan with over 300 specific measures. The new round of reform will be all-dimensional and wide-ranging, covering not only the economic field but also political, social, cultural and other fields. In terms of stability, we will strengthen the rule of law. An upgraded version of the relationship will guarantee sustained economic growth in China, which will benefit not only ourselves but also the rest of the world.

  There are several trends about China's development that I want to explain here. China is fast becoming a world market while remaining a world factory, and will rapidly turn into a major overseas investor while remaining a major destination of overseas investment. Last year, China attracted over US$100 billion of investment from abroad, and overseas Chinese investment jumped to US$90 billion. More capital- and even technology-intensive products have been seen in China's trade with the rest of the world. As Premier Li Keqiang puts it, we are achieving a strategic shift from “made in China” to “equipment from China”. Generally speaking, China's development will be a blessing to the entire world.

  Zhang Lifen: Leaders from 40 countries and 2,500 elite representatives from various sectors have gathered at this year's Davos meeting. They have many questions about where China will go from here. Traditionally, discussions at Davos have been dominated by economic and trade issues. But this year, it is very different. We hear more about China's geopolitics, international relations and some regional issues.

  Before you came, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was here and he gave a high-profile special address, which contained two parts. The bulk of his address was devoted to Abenomics and his plan to revive the Japanese economy. The rest included his views about geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific, especially with regard to China. He also defended his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. As the Chinese foreign minister, what's your reaction to that?

  Wang Yi: In my answer to the same question by another journalist in Montreux yesterday, I used a Chinese saying, “the more one wants to wipe something out, the darker this something becomes.”

  To get a clear answer to this question, we should first recognize the nature of the Yasukuni Shrine issue. The Shrine was without doubt a militarist symbol before World War II, and has been retained after the war. Even today, the Shrine openly claims that Japan's past aggression was justified, that the Pacific War was waged for self defense, and that the trial by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was illegal. The Shrine still honors 14 Class-A war criminals as divine spirits. Is that an appropriate place for a Japanese leader to visit? The answer is very clear. Not only the people from China, the ROK and other victimized Asian countries have expressed opposition to Abe's visit. Even people within Japan are strongly questioning the visit. Five out of the six major newspapers in Japan have expressed disapproval of Abe's visit.

  The visit is damaging, as it has crossed three bottom lines. First, the bottom line of China-Japan relations. A key prerequisite for the normalization of China-Japan relations in 1972 was that Japan should treat history correctly, recognize its past aggression, and draw lessons from history. But this bottom line was breached when the Japanese prime minister paid homage to Class-A war criminals honored in the Shrine. A visit there is an act to clear the name for war criminals and overturn the history of aggression. The message it sends is clear no matter how it is explained.

  Second, the bottom line of human conscience and international justice. Is it imaginable that a European leader should lay wreath and pay homage to the Nazis? Definitely not. Abe said he was there to express his sincere reverence and at the same time, promise not to wage war again. This makes no sense at all. It would be unthinkable or even unlawful if such things happened in Europe.

  Third, the bottom line of the subsequent post-war international order. The contemporary international order represented by the United Nations was established on the basis of the victory of the world's anti-fascist war. Any attempt to question or challenge the outcomes of the war is absolutely unacceptable. Moreover, we should also ask ourselves why Abe insisted on doing so, knowing full well the strong opposition at home and abroad. All peace-loving countries and peoples should be vigilant about it.

  Zhang Lifen: During the last two days' Davos discussions on China and the Asia Pacific, many people talked about the great uncertainties in China-Japan relations. China's position on the Japanese prime minister's visit to the Shrine was very clear and it said it would not do business with leaders like Abe. Once diplomatic efforts have been exhausted, what will happen next? What is the worst-case scenario? Will there be a military conflict? Abe said in his remarks that Japan will never wage war again. Many people worry about a prospect that nobody wants to see – a military conflict, for example. Minister Wang Yi, you had been once the Chinese ambassador in Japan for five years, what do you think may happen next?

  Wang Yi: The purpose of diplomacy is to strive for the best prospects and results. That's precisely what diplomats are for. What is important right now is to alert the international community to keep vigilance against the developments in Japan and send out a message of justice.

  I have noted that more and more Japanese people and groups have expressed their opposition and I believe this trend will gather momentum. In view of this, the approach of the Japanese leaders is unsustainable and they must change course. Such things have happened in the past. When a former Japanese prime minister visited Yasukuni for the first time in 1985, he encountered opposition and had to give up the practice in the following years. The same thing happened to the Koizumi government. It will happen this time as well. It is only a matter of time.

  With regard to China-Japan relations, we certainly want to live in peace with our neighbors. But we also have our principles and bottom lines. China is on the side of justice. I am sure when more and more countries and peoples question and oppose what Abe has done, the situation will change.

  Zhang Lifen: Under the current circumstances, is there any mechanism of communication between China and Japan to avert situations that is surprising or no one wants to see?

  Wang Yi: Of course there are channels. The Chinese ambassador is still in Tokyo. Every day, he is explaining to the Japanese people the position of the Chinese people, engaging with the Japanese side and urging Japan to recognize that the visit is wrong. So long as the Chinese side continues along this path, it will have an impact.

  Zhang Lifen: There have been ups and downs since the normalization of China-Japan relations in 1972. Some have described the current relationship as “at a freezing point”. How would you characterize the relationship right now?

  Wang Yi: Certainly the relationship is very bad right now; it is at a low point. But things tend to bounce back when they reach the bottom. I believe we should stick to what we think is the right thing to do. Ultimately, what is right will become the consensus.

  Zhang Lifen: In your view, if something happens in 2014, will China rule out the possibility of a military conflict?

  Wang Yi:If you choose to think that way, you may end up with a 麽more pessimistic outlook. Just like what I said, as diplomats, we must go all the way to secure the best possible prospect.

  Zhang Lifen: Another question related to Japan. Before his special address in the afternoon the day before yesterday, Mr. Abe held a briefing with some international media outlets. He compared the current relationship with China to one between Britain and Germany in 1914, suggesting that although Britain and Germany had quite frequent economic and trade interactions at the time, the good economic ties and common interests did not stop the two from coming into war with each other during the World War I. What is your view?

  Wang Yi: I saw the report too. The spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry has made a response. Since you have brought this up, I wish to add a few words. Abe's remarks struck me as total disorder of time and space, making no sense at all.

  What I mean by total confusion of time and space is that the world has changed dramatically since 1914. China is a force for peace. Its development gives the world greater strength to uphold peace. Abe's remarks also made no sense. If Japan wants to talk about history, then let's talk about history. Let's all have a good look at what Japan actually did in modern history. In 1910, Japan annexed and exercised colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, which represented an ignominious page in Japan's modern history. In 1931, Japan created the Liutiaogou Incident, occupied Northeast China, and committed mass killings there. In 1937, Japan created the Lugouqiao Incident and launched a full-scale war of aggression against China.

  I will not go into details, but let me give you one figure: during the war, the Chinese military and civilian casualties amounted to 35 million. Then in 1941, Japan launched the Pacific War, sending its militarist troops across almost the entire Southeast Asia. These solid historical facts show clearly who kept waging aggressions and who kept making trouble.

  Since history is the subject here, we advise the Japanese leader to fully reflect on history and learn its lessons. Only by doing so can Japan create a better future and win the trust of its neighboring countries.

  Zhang Lifen: The current China-Japan relations are worrisome. In your view, how will it impact bilateral economic and trade ties? Many Chinese have commented online that the most effective sanctions China can impose on Japan are economic sanctions. What is your view? Will the strained bilateral relations have a direct impact on bilateral business ties?

  Wang Yi: Economic ties follow their own law of development. But a harmonious and amicable atmosphere will certainly be a big plus. Bilateral trade between China and Japan went down last year due to several factors, including the negative impact of the strained political ties. This is not what we hope to see, but this is not something that can be changed by our will. Actually, our economic ties with Japan remain normal on the whole, mainly because the law of economic development is still at play. If friends in the Japanese business circle are truly worried and do not want the decline to continue, they should step forward and speak their mind, in an effort to stop behaviors that undermine the relations and trust between China and Japan or even turn back the wheel of history. This is what is really needed to fundamentally preserve the cooperation between our two countries.

  Zhang Lifen: The international community pays close attention to issues related to the Korean Peninsula. You led the Chinese delegation to the Six-Party Talks when you were the vice foreign minister. People are keen to know how China defines its relations with the DPRK. Is it a special relationship or one that is gradually becoming normal?

  Wang Yi: First of all, China is ready to develop good-neighborly and friendly relations with all neighbors. The DPRK is one of China's important neighbors. We certainly attach great importance to growing a good-neighborly and friendly relationship with it. Second, there is also a traditional friendship between China and the DPRK. We cherish it and hope it will last. Third, there are no two countries in the world that see eye to eye on every issue. Even brothers sometimes argue with each other, let alone countries. It is only natural that China and the DPRK may differ on some issues. What is important is to have dialogue at various levels so as to increase mutual understanding and build consensus.

  One issue that China and the DPRK have difference on is the Korean nuclear issue. China's position on the issue is clear, consistent and unchanged. We are opposed to the DPRK's development of nuclear weapons and committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula. The pursuit of nuclear weapons does not serve the DPRK's own security purposes and its people's fundamental and long-term interests. It will also complicate the regional situation. How can this issue be resolved? It has to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation. The extreme approach of military action is no option. We have stated that China will not allow trouble to be created at its doorstep. Denuclearization of the peninsula can only be achieved through dialogue and negotiation. The Six-Party Talks is the only viable path to achieve this goal. Our basic position is that the peninsula must be denuclearized and the DPRK's legitimate security concerns should also be addressed, as this is only fair and reasonable.

  Zhang Lifen: You have just said the two countries have a traditional friendship, or a special relationship as some people believe. Many want China to use its traditional or special relationship with the DPRK to influence the country and help ease the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Yet sometimes they feel that China might be losing its special influence on the DPRK.

  Wang Yi: There are always some misunderstanding about China's influence on the DPRK. China-DPRK relations are in the final analysis state-to-state relations, which are regulated by the basic norms of international relations that all must abide by. Yet, as neighbors, the two countries have interacted a lot, which is all very natural. The Six-Party Talks is not a matter for China alone; the other five parties must play their part, particularly, the United States and the DPRK. I hope they will soon reopen their dialogue, resolving whatever outstanding issues between them through such dialogue and thus creating conditions necessary for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.

  Zhang Lifen: You are the 11th Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China since its founding.The relationship between China and the United States perhaps is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. People are wondering that with more and more adjectives we have used to describe China-US relations, such as comprehensive partnership, new type of partnership, etc., have we put to rest our doubt, namely, despite all the diplomatic niceties, have we resolved the issue of trust which is central to China-US relations? In a recently published article of yours, you said that China and the United States will enter a period of non-conflict and non-confrontation. Is that truly feasible?

  Wang Yi: The trust issue, in fact, concerns people's expectations of China-US relations. Both are the world's major countries, with one being the largest developed country and the other the largest developing country. They are also the world's two top economies. The state of China-US relations bears on not only China and the United States but the whole world. That is why people are keen to speculate on the future of China-US relations and adjust their policy decisions correspondingly. This is indeed a big question with an impact that goes beyond the bilateral context.

  We should manage well the negative expectations that affect the long-term development of China-US relations. And to this end, we have proposed that the two sides work to build a new model of major-country relationship, one that can free us from the so-called Thucydides trap with the established power and the emerging power colliding inexorably and one that delivers non-conflict and non-confrontation by both sides. Such is the prime feature of the proposed new model of major-country relationship.

  Can we achieve that? I think it is entirely possible. We are living in a world of rapid globalization; China and the United States, with interests closely integrated, have already become a community of shared interests. Two-way trade has topped US$500 billion a year. Almost all big American companies are operating in China. China's direct investment in the United States has grown by leaps and bounds. Every day, over 10,000 people travel between our two countries and the number of channels or mechanisms of communication between the two countries has increased to over 100. This is totally different from the past. In the event of a major conflict between China and the United States, the situation can only be a lose-lose one. That is why the two countries decide to send out a message of non-conflict and non-confrontation, which is reassuring to all the countries. As to countries trying to cash in on China-US frictions and disputes, they will probably give up the attempt when they hear the message.

  Of course, just non-conflict and non-confrontation are not enough for China-US relations. Cooperation between the two countries is required to solve a host of problems facing the world. We must achieve win-win cooperation on the basis of mutual respect. Thus the new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States has three defining features of non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. Needless to say, such a relationship is only at the beginning stage. Its successful completion calls for joint efforts by both sides. And the process can not be plain-sailing, but will encounter some twists and turns. What is important is that the general direction has been set, toward which the countries can focus their efforts.

  Zhang Lifen: Some people hold the view that China is not comfortable with the US strategy of pivot to Asia in recent years. Have you taken your concern candidly and directly to the American side?

  Wang Yi: China has nothing to be uncomfortable about this. Because the United States has been an Asia-Pacific country all along. The world is getting smaller and flatter, and we are all living in the same global village. The United States has both traditional influence and practical interests in Asia, which we respect, the same way as the United States is expected to respect China's status and influence in Asia. We hope that the United States and China can work together and play a positive and constructive role in the Asia-Pacific region. So long as the two countries are cooperative, the region will have a bright future. That is why we propose that the building of the new model of major-country relationship begin in Asia, a region where the two countries have far more overlapping interests and where problems are more likely to occur.

  Zhang Lifen: I saw from the Chinese Foreign Ministry website that you have a very busy travel schedule. You are just back from a trip to Africa, and you attended the Second International Conference on Syria in Montreux two days ago. I noticed that in a recent interview with Middle East media, you said that China should play in this region not only an economic role but political and military roles as well. In the past, China often used its veto power on Middle East issues. Does this mean that after an overall evaluation of the international landscape, China's diplomacy under the new leadership is moving gradually away from the previously held “low-key” approach?

  Wang Yi: China's diplomacy is well known for its continuity and stability. Nonetheless, it needs to keep pace with the changing times and be innovative and proactive. In particular, as its comprehensive national strength expands steadily, expectations on China by the international community have also grown in such a way that China should be given a greater role to play and more obligations to undertake. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the world's second biggest economy, China can be expected to play a due role in maintaining world peace and stability and resolving regional conflicts. This, being a continuous process, does not mean that major changes have taken place in China's foreign policy.

  You mentioned the interview I gave to Al Jazeera. I was asked whether China has played a political role apart from its economic role. And I said that many regional problems have emerged essentially because development issues have not been well addressed. We have acted on our advantages to strengthen economic cooperation with Middle East countries to advance regional development, thus creating conditions for solving political issues. This does not mean that China plays no role in the political field. For example, since the 1950s, China has always supported the just cause of Palestine. As its national strength grows, China will continue to do what it can to shoulder international responsibilities and obligations that are commensurate with China's national strength.

  Zhang Lifen: Last question. In 2014, what will be your biggest concern that might keep you awake at night?

  Wang Yi: In 2014, peace and development will still be the main features of the overall international landscape. Emerging market countries, on the whole, will continue to enjoy the upward trend in spite of some difficulties. The international balance of power is moving toward greater equilibrium. The global economy has begun to recover slowly, and hotspot issues have been brought under control or settled to different extents. For instance, progress has been made recently in negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue. In spite of the severe confrontation between the two sides of Syria, the Geneva II conference was convened as scheduled. Peace talks between Palestine and Israel are underway as well.

  Although there has been some playing up of the situation in the South China Sea, the situation concerning China's neighborhood remains generally stable. On the one hand, China is committed to a negotiated solution through dialogue with the parties directly concerned. On the other, China is working with ASEAN to jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea. Work on both fronts is being actively pursued. China also enjoys good relations with South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, and with its neighboring countries such as ROK and Mongolia. And China-Russia relationship has always maintained a high level of development.

  This year, China will play host to two very important meetings. One is the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) to be held in Shanghai in the first half of the year, which will focus on regional security cooperation. The other is the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting to be held in Beijing in the latter half of the year, which is about regional economic growth. China will play its due role as the host country, turn the two events into useful platforms of cooperation and ensure their success.

  It is also our task to implement important concepts and notions on China's diplomacy. One is the important concepts of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness” put forward by President Xi Jinping at the recent meeting on neighborhood diplomacy. We will work hard to implement these concepts in our pursuit of good-neighborly and friendly relations. The other is the notion of following the right approach to principles and interests proposed by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Africa last year. This notion is not only a reflection of China's fine cultural tradition, but also a banner of China's diplomacy. We will follow the right approach in our exchanges with developing countries, the least developed countries in particular. When it comes to our old friends, including those countries confronted with difficulties in economic development, we will help them reap more benefits, and as soon as possible, from cooperation with China, so as to achieve common development through win-win cooperation.

  In addition, we will make vigorous efforts to move forward the development of the economic belt along the Silk Road and the 21st century maritime Silk Road initiated by President Xi Jinping. These initiatives will contribute to the development of China's all-dimensional opening-up strategy and inject vigor and vitality into the economic growth of the entire region. We look forward to working in concert with other countries in the region to achieve common development.

  Zhang Lifen: Minister Wang Yi, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to do the interview with Financial Times and FTChinese.com.

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