Today marked the beginning of the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue under Obama Administration. The meetings are considered to be important even though they may not yield immediate results.
Today, we meet in a building that speaks to the history of the last century. It houses a national memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, a man who held office when the 20th century was still young, and America’s leadership in the world was emerging. It is named for Ronald Reagan, a man who came of age during two World Wars, and whose presidency helped usher in a new era of history. And it holds a piece of the Berlin Wall, a decades-long symbol of division that was finally torn down, unleashing a rising tide of globalization that continues to shape our world.
One hundred years ago — in the early days of the 20th century — it was clear that there were momentous choices to be made — choices about the borders of nations and the rights of human beings. But in Woodrow Wilson’s day, no one could have foreseen the arc of history that led to a wall coming down in Berlin, nor could they have imagined the conflict and upheaval that characterized the years in between. For people everywhere — from Boston to Beijing — the 20th century was a time of great progress, but that progress also came with a great price.
Today, we look out on the horizon of a new century. And as we launch this dialogue, it’s important for us to reflect upon the questions that will shape the 21st century. Will growth be stalled by events like our current financial crisis, or will we cooperate to create balanced and sustainable growth, lifting more people out of poverty and creating a broader prosperity around the world? Will the need for energy breed competition and climate change, or will we build partnerships to produce clean power and to protect our planet? Will nuclear weapons spread unchecked, or will we forge a new consensus to use this power for only peaceful purposes? Will extremists be able to stir conflict and division, or will we unite on behalf of our shared security? Will nations and peoples define themselves solely by their differences, or can we find common ground necessary to meet our common challenges, and to respect the dignity of every human being?
We can’t predict with certainty what the future will bring, but we can be certain about the issues that will define our times. And we also know this: The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world. That really must underpin our partnership. That is the responsibility that together we bear.
As we look to the future, we can learn from our past — for history shows us that both our nations benefit from engagement that is grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. During my time in office, we will mark the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s trip to China. At that time, the world was much different than it is today. America had fought three wars in East Asia in just 30 years, and the Cold War was in a stalemate. China’s economy was cut off from the world, and a huge percentage of the Chinese people lived in extreme poverty.
Back then, our dialogue was guided by a narrow focus on our shared rivalry with the Soviet Union. Today, we have a comprehensive relationship that reflects the deepening ties among our people. Our countries have now shared relations for longer than we were estranged. Our people interact in so many ways. And I believe that we are poised to make steady progress on some of the most important issues of our times.
My confidence is rooted in the fact that the United States and China share mutual interests. If we advance those interests through cooperation, our people will benefit and the world will be better off — because our ability to partner with each other is a prerequisite for progress on many of the most pressing global challenges.
I have no illusion that the United States and China will agree on every issue, nor choose to see the world in the same way. This was already noted by our previous speaker. But that only makes dialogue more important — so that we can know each other better, and communicate our concerns with candor.
For instance, the United States respects the progress that China has made by lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Just as we respect China’s ancient and remarkable culture, its remarkable achievements, we also strongly believe that the religion and culture of all peoples must be respected and protected, and that all people should be free to speak their minds. And that includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States.
Support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America. Our nation is made up of immigrants from every part of the world. We have protected our unity and struggled to perfect our union by extending basic rights to all our people. And those rights include the freedom to speak your mind, to worship your God, and to choose your leaders. These are not things that we seek to impose — this is who we are. It guides our openness to one another and to the world.
China has its own distinct story that shapes its own worldview. And Americans know the richness of China’s history because it helped to shape the world and it helped to shape America. We know the talent of the Chinese people because they have helped to create this great country. My own Cabinet contains two Chinese Americans. And we know that despite our differences, America is enriched through deeper ties with a country of 1.3 billion people that is at once ancient and dynamic — ties that can be forged through increased exchanges among our people, and constructive bilateral relations between our governments. That is how we will narrow our divisions.
Let us be honest: We know that some are wary of the future. Some in China think that America will try to contain China’s ambitions; some in America think that there is something to fear in a rising China. I take a different view. And I believe President Hu takes a different view, as well. I believe in a future where China is a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations; a future when our nations are partners out of necessity, but also out of opportunity. This future is not fixed, but it is a destination that can be reached if we pursue a sustained dialogue like the one that you will commence today, and act on what we hear and what we learn.
Thousands of years ago, the great philosopher Mencius said: “A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.” Our task is to forge a path to the future that we seek for our children — to prevent mistrust or the inevitable differences of the moment from allowing that trail to be blocked by grass; to always be mindful of the journey that we are undertaking together.
This dialogue will help determine the ultimate destination of that journey. It represents a commitment to shape our young century through sustained cooperation, and not confrontation. I look forward to carrying this effort forward through my first visit to China, where I hope to come to know better your leaders, your people, and your majestic country. Together, I’m confident that we can move steadily in the direction of progress, and meet our responsibility to our people and to the future that we will all share.
The two-day affair – in which nearly 150 senior Chinese officials, including nearly China’s whole Cabinet, is attending – is hosted by Clinton and Geithner. Fittingly, Clinton and Geithner penned an op-ed in the WSJ today, copied below:
When the United States and China established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, it was far from clear what the future would hold. In 1979, China was still emerging from the ruins of the Cultural Revolution and its gross domestic product stood at a mere $176 billion, a fraction of the U.S. total of $2.5 trillion. Even travel and communication between our two great nations presented a challenge: a few unreliable telephone lines and no direct flights connected us. Today China’s GDP tops four trillion dollars, thousands of emails and cellphone calls cross the Pacific Ocean daily, and by next year there will be 249 direct flights per week between the U.S. and China.
To keep up with these changes that affect our citizens and our planet, we need to update our official ties with Beijing. During their first meeting in April, President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao announced a new dialogue as part of the administration’s efforts to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with Beijing. So this week we will meet together in Washington with two of the highest-ranking officials in the Chinese government, Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, to develop a new framework for U.S.-China relations. Many of our cabinet colleagues will join us in this “Strategic and Economic Dialogue,” along with an equally large number of the most senior leaders of the Chinese government. Why are we doing this with China, and what does it mean for Americans?
Simply put, few global problems can be solved by the U.S. or China alone. And few can be solved without the U.S. and China together. The strength of the global economy, the health of the global environment, the stability of fragile states and the solution to nonproliferation challenges turn in large measure on cooperation between the U.S. and China. While our two-day dialogue will break new ground in combining discussions of both economic and foreign policies, we will be building on the efforts of the past seven U.S. administrations and on the existing tapestry of government-to-government exchanges and cooperation in several dozen different areas.
At the top of the list will be assuring recovery from the most serious global economic crisis in generations and assuring balanced and sustained global growth once recovery has taken hold. When the current crisis struck, the U.S. and China acted quickly and aggressively to support economic activity and to create and save jobs. The success of the world’s major economies in blunting the force of the global recession and setting the stage for recovery is due in substantial measure to the bold steps our two nations have taken.
As we move toward recovery, we must take additional steps to lay the foundation for balanced and sustainable growth in the years to come. That will involve Americans rebuilding our savings, strengthening our financial system and investing in energy, education and health care to make our nation more productive and prosperous. For China it involves continuing financial sector reform and development. It also involves spurring domestic demand growth and making the Chinese economy less reliant on exports. Raising personal incomes and strengthening the social safety net to address the reasons why Chinese feel compelled to save so much would provide a powerful boost to Chinese domestic demand and global growth.
Both nations must avoid the temptation to close off our respective markets to trade and investment. Both must work hard to create new opportunities for our workers and our firms to compete equally, so that the people of each country see the benefit from the rapidly expanding U.S.-China economic relationship.
A second priority is to make progress on the interconnected issues of climate change, energy and the environment. Our two nations need to establish a true partnership to put both countries on a low-carbon pathway, simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions while promoting economic recovery and sustainable development. The cross-cutting nature of our meetings offers a unique opportunity for key American officials to meet with their Chinese counterparts to work on the global issue of climate change. In the run-up to the international climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, it is clear that any agreement must include meaningful participation by large economies like China.
The third broad area for discussion is finding complementary approaches to security and development challenges in the region and across the globe. From the provocative actions of North Korea, to stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the economic possibilities in Africa, the U.S. and China must work together to reach solutions to these urgent challenges confronting not only our two nations, but many others across the globe.
While this first round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue offers a unique opportunity to work with Chinese officials, we will not always agree on solutions and we must be frank about our differences, including establishing the right venues to have those discussions. And while we are working to make China an important partner, we will continue to work closely with our long-standing allies and friends in Asia and around the world and rely on the appropriate international groups and organizations.
But having these strategic-level discussions with our Chinese counterparts will help build the trust and relationships to tackle the most vexing global challenges of today—and of the coming generation. The Chinese have a wise aphorism: “When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully together.” Today, we will join our Chinese counterparts in grabbing an oar and starting to row.
Note: Mrs. Clinton is the U.S. Secretary of State. Mr. Geithner is Secretary of the Treasury.
I know these meetings are diplomatic in nature and public statements will probably be carefully scripted. Nevertheless, it is an important event, and I thought an entry here for people to make observations would be appropriate.