Yan Xuetong on Blinken's China visit, Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, etc.
And the TENTATIVE program of the upcoming July 1-3 World Peace Forum under his leadership
Yan Xuetong, Director of The Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University is one of China’s preeminent scholars on international relations. Every July, his institute organizes the World Peace Forum, the first high-level international security forum initiated by a Chinese institution.
Today (Tuesday, June 20) Yan holds a press briefing on the coming event, where he talked about the event, made a speech on the changes in the international relations situation from the perspective of the digital era, and then answered journalists’ questions.
This newsletter, based on the Chinese transcript of the press briefing provided by the institute, will present Yan’s answers to the press followed by the TENTATIVE schedule of the 2023 World Peace Forum [July 1-3]. I’ll publish Yan’s speech tomorrow - otherwise, it’s too long. - Zichen
Yesterday, General Secretary Xi Jinping also mentioned that great power competition goes against the trend of the times, and China and the United States should pursue their own technological development and shared prosperity. What is your opinion on these statements regarding the development of China-US relations, as explicitly stated by the Chinese side?
Yan Xuetong: I believe the statement that great power competition goes against the trend of the times has two layers of meaning. The first layer is that great power competition objectively exists. If it did not exist, it would not go against the trend. But it does exist, and it goes against the trend. So, the first layer is that great power competition objectively exists.
The second layer is about the hope that history can progress in the right direction, towards globalization and progress, rather than reversing towards deglobalization. Currently, we face a very real problem of deglobalization. The first thing we need to do is to find a way to prevent further deglobalization. It is not enough to just propose good ideas to prevent deglobalization; it is necessary to take concrete actions. That is the first step, which means preventing deglobalization from becoming more severe.
Based on this, the second step is whether we can move towards re-globalization. Since globalization has reached a certain stage and then encountered deglobalization, can we bring it back and move towards re-globalization? Reglobalization essentially means increasing international cooperation. Globalization expands international cooperation on a global scale, whereas de-globalization cancels the cooperative measures that emerged from globalization. So, re-globalization is about restoring the canceled cooperation. From this perspective, I think what we need now is an effort to promote re-globalization, and this effort requires specific policies to be formulated to achieve it.
Of course, from the perspective of the forum, we believe that the first thing needed is consensus through communication and dialogue. If strategists and the general public believe that no communication and international cooperation is good, then there is no point in pursuing re-globalization. We can see on the internet that many people are against globalization, cultural exchanges, technological exchanges, financial exchanges, and all international interactions. They favor cutting off all international connections and believe that it is the safest approach. If such thinking becomes dominant, it will be impossible for international cooperation to develop.
Therefore, in terms of public opinion, if we can form a global public opinion that supports and advocates international cooperation while criticizing and opposing the reduction of international cooperation, I think it would be beneficial to prevent further deglobalization.
In recent years, the United States has been accusing China of seeking to change the international order. However, China emphasizes that it has no intention to change the international order and will not change the international order it helped establish in the past. Instead, it seeks necessary improvements to make it more just and reasonable. Therefore, some viewpoints argue that when the United States talks about the international order, it refers to the international order led by the West, while China's proposal for the international order revolves around the United Nations-centered international order. It is believed that the two sides are discussing different things. What is your opinion on this viewpoint? How do you define the international order?
Yan Xuetong: This is a very good question. In our communication and dialogue, we often use the same words but mean different things, resulting in meaningless discussions.
In fact, for the international order, we need a definition, a consensus as you mentioned. In my opinion, what is order? Order refers to a state where conflicts are resolved non-violently. For example, in this room, we have an order: who speaks first, who speaks later, decided by the host. It is not about who has the stronger arm to overpower others and speak first. It is a non-violent way of resolving conflicts and determining the order of speaking. However, the methods to resolve such conflicts differ, and the characteristics of the resulting order are different. For example, in this room, the method is that the host calls out the names, and everyone accepts this rule. But if you go to buy tickets, and someone doesn't accept this principle, saying that whoever arrives first gets the ticket, that is a different order. Different orders have different characteristics. There is a place in the world that has a very ordered environment, which people dislike the most, and that is a prison. Prisons are very orderly, but people do not want to live in such an environment. People want conflicts to be resolved peacefully, but at the same time, they want as much freedom as possible. That is why people prefer the order found in schools.
Today, when you talk about the differences between China and the United States regarding the international order, it largely stems from the fact that the two sides do not have a common definition of what constitutes order. For example, in my personal view, the indicator of order's presence or absence is the absence of violent conflicts. If there are no violent conflicts, there is order. However, the specific characteristics of the order, whether it is the order of the Cold War era, the post-Cold War era, the order of liberalism, the order of conservatism, or the order of today's digital age, which I refer to as an uneasy peace order, what type of order it is depends on the rules that are established.
Today, I believe that in the context of China and the United States, one of the things that needs to be addressed is, as you mentioned, how to ensure that there is an order and prevent conflicts from escalating into war. This is the first step, and it is about ensuring that there is order by not resorting to violence or war to resolve conflicts. It is also about finding ways to prevent other countries from resolving their conflicts through war. That is how the order is established.
The second step is to discuss what type of order is the best. Is it an order where only one party decides, such as the host calling the names, or an order based on queuing or negotiation? The type of order needs to be discussed to reach a consensus and establish such an order based on a principle.
We know that during Secretary Blinken's visit to China, the Chinese side emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the most significant issue in China-US relations. Henry Kissinger also recently said that China and the United States are standing on the edge of a cliff, and if tensions persist, a military conflict may erupt in the Taiwan Strait. In your opinion, how should both China and the United States manage the biggest risk point, which is the Taiwan issue? Furthermore, the US has repeatedly stated its adherence to the One-China policy, opposing Taiwan independence and any unilateral changes to the status quo. During Blinken's visit to China, he reiterated these statements and encouraged peaceful resolution of differences through dialogue across the Taiwan Strait. How do you view these expressions by the US? Thank you.
Yan Xuetong: Every year, we are asked about the Taiwan independence issue. After I answered it last year, some people on the internet criticized me, saying that I didn't know China's policy at all.
First, I believe both China and the US have realized that managing the Taiwan issue well is the core point for maintaining order in China-US relations. If the crisis in the Taiwan Strait can be managed, and China and the US can avoid going to war and resolve their conflicts through peaceful means, the possibility of a proxy war between the two sides is almost zero. In that case, there would be order. As for the specific type of order to be established in the Taiwan Strait region based on that order, it is something that needs to be discussed between the mainland and Taiwan, how to establish such a peaceful order.
Today, I think that Blinken's visit should be seen as a basic consensus reached between China and the US. That is, they want to maintain order in the Taiwan Strait region and prevent war. This is the consensus between both sides. In the next step, the type of order that should be established in the Taiwan Strait based on this foundation, whether it should be "One Country, Two Systems" or some other type of order, is something that needs to be discussed.
The second point is that, from the Chinese government's perspective, I believe China has a strong willingness to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait region. For example, in a recently held meeting on Taiwan-related matters, the Chinese government proposed the establishment of a cross-strait integrated development demonstration zone between Fujian Province and Taiwan, aiming for the integration and development of both sides. This is intended to be a model and demonstration zone for a peaceful reunification policy. Therefore, I think China has great sincerity in this regard. Therefore, I believe that China can achieve peace in the Taiwan Strait region.
The third point is that managing the Taiwan issue between China and the US and preventing conflict from escalating into war does not solve everything. Clearly, the United States wants to use the Taiwan issue and the pro-independence forces in Taiwan to contain China's development. This is also evident. Therefore, I believe that conflicts between China and the US over the Taiwan issue will continue.
I am a journalist from a Japanese television station, and I also want to ask you about Secretary Blinken's visit to China. We foreign media paid great attention to whether President Xi Jinping would meet with Secretary Blinken, and President Xi did meet with him. Do you find this outcome surprising? How do you view this meeting? Why did President Xi meet with Secretary Blinken?
Yan Xuetong: I won't answer whether it is surprising or not. Instead, I will comment on what this meeting indicates.
Since the Chinese leader received Secretary Blinken, it indicates that this negotiation did not enter a very hostile state. If there were no consensus and it was in a state of hostility, this meeting would not have taken place. This is the first significant point. It shows that during this entire Blinken visit, progress and consensus were achieved in the negotiations between China and the US.
The second point is that I believe this meeting actually lays a good foundation for further easing China-US relations and preventing conflicts from escalating into war. In other words, the most critical issue for both sides now is that we cannot have a war between us because having a war is not beneficial to either side, and as the Chinese government believes, it is not beneficial to the world. I know this because when I visited Europe in March and the US in April, many businesspeople expressed their concerns that if there were a conflict in the Taiwan Strait, their cooperation with Chinese companies and their own production in their respective countries would be greatly affected because a significant part of the supply chain is connected to China. So, I believe both China and the US recognize that it is essential to prevent conflicts from escalating into war.
Therefore, this meeting actually plays a positive role in China-US relations, stabilizing the situation, preventing further escalation, and helping to maintain the current situation. This is the third point.
However, I also want to say that while this meeting helps stabilize the situation, it does not mean that the conflicts and frictions between China and the US have been completely resolved. I think the conflicts and frictions will continue for a long time, and they will continue to impact China-US relations. However, the key point is that we must prevent conflicts from escalating into war and try to resolve them through peaceful means.
My question is about the Belt and Road Initiative. In recent years, the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China has received a lot of attention. Some countries have expressed concerns about China's intentions and the impact of the initiative. How do you view these concerns? What is your assessment of the Belt and Road Initiative's development and its future prospects?
Yan Xuetong: I think it is normal for some countries to have concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative. This is because the Belt and Road Initiative involves investment, infrastructure construction, and economic development in many countries. It is natural for countries to have concerns about issues such as investment security, debt sustainability, and the impact on local economies. These concerns are reasonable and should be addressed through communication, consultation, and cooperation.
In terms of the development and future prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative, I believe it has made significant progress since its inception. Many projects have been implemented, and infrastructure connectivity has been improved in various regions. However, it is also important to recognize that there have been challenges and criticisms along the way. Some projects have faced difficulties, and there have been concerns about debt sustainability and environmental impacts. These issues need to be addressed and resolved through continuous improvement and adjustment of the initiative.
Looking ahead, I believe the Belt and Road Initiative will continue to play a significant role in promoting regional connectivity, economic development, and people-to-people exchanges. However, it is crucial to learn from past experiences, address concerns and challenges, and ensure that the initiative is implemented in a sustainable, inclusive, and transparent manner. This requires close cooperation and communication among participating countries, as well as effective governance mechanisms to ensure the smooth and responsible implementation of projects.
Overall, I am optimistic about the future prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative, but it will require continuous efforts and adjustments to address concerns and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for all parties involved.
In the joint statement of the meeting between Qin Gang and Secretary Blinken, there is a phrase that says "to build a stable, predictable, and constructive U.S.-China relationship." Many foreign media commented that this expression actually lowers expectations for the U.S.-China relationship. How do you view this? What is your assessment of the future trajectory of U.S.-China relations? Thank you.
Yan Xuetong: First, I think Qin Gang's statement is in line with the objective reality. The conflict between China and the United States is an objective reality, and the United States cannot abandon its strategy of "small yard, high fence." It is almost impossible for the United States to give up that possibility, as stated in its national strategic report. As long as the United States adheres to the policy of "small yard, high fence." the relationship between China and the United States will be characterized by conflict rather than cooperation.
How high can expectations be? Expectations can be high, but if they cannot be realized, I believe Qin Gang's statement reflects a more objective reality. He proposed that we want stability, and although there are things that each of us might do that the other side is unwilling to accept, I know that what you want to do, which I cannot accept, will not exceed my expectations to a certain extent. For example, if I expect my neighbor to play the piano until 10 o'clock at night, even though it bothers me, I can tolerate it. But if he plays until 2 a.m., then I cannot tolerate it. My expectation is that you stop playing at 10 o'clock, and if you disturb me, you stop at 10 o'clock. I think Qin Gang's statement is in line with the objective reality. Both sides may have policies that the other side considers unacceptable or negative, but these negative policies are limited and should not exceed the other side's expectations. I think achieving this is stability, which means that I expect my neighbor to stop playing the piano at 10 o'clock, and I won't go upstairs to knock on his door. If he continues playing until 1 a.m., then I will definitely go upstairs and knock on his door, asking him to stop.
So, in this regard, I think at present, we should have a reasonable expectation for U.S.-China relations. A reasonable expectation is better than an excessively high expectation…What I mean is that in the current state of affairs, there is much work to be done by both sides, which means clarifying the expectations of both sides, where the bottom line is, which is necessary.
I am a reporter from Hong Kong. My question follows up on Professor Yan's response to the question from the Japanese journalist. As you mentioned in your speech, smaller countries face pressure to choose sides. With Secretary Blinken's visit to China and the consensus reached between China and the U.S., from the perspective of considering the global impact, how do you view the influence of Blinken's visit on the neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region? Can it to some extent alleviate their anxieties or dilemmas in choosing sides?
Yan Xuetong: I feel that to a large extent, this visit by Blinken to China will alleviate the anxieties of neighboring countries because their biggest concern is the outbreak of war between China and the U.S. As long as there is no war between China and the U.S., and conflicts, contradictions, and even competition between them are handled through peaceful means, neighboring countries believe they can cope with the situation. As Southeast Asian countries often say, when elephants fight, the grass suffers. If China and the U.S. were to engage in an all-out war, we would all suffer. Therefore, I believe Blinken's visit to China, being received by the Chinese leader, has played a positive role in alleviating the anxieties of neighboring countries.
Hello, Professor Yan. I would like to ask a question about China's foreign policy. We have seen that China has made significant efforts in mediation and promoting dialogue this year, and has achieved remarkable results. This includes proposing a solution to the Ukraine crisis, facilitating Saudi-Iran reconciliation, and putting forward three propositions for resolving the Palestinian issue. How do you evaluate China's efforts in mediation and dialogue? In what ways do you think it has enhanced China's international influence and contributed to regional stability? Additionally, to what extent have these efforts and proposals gained consensus and recognition from the international community?
Yan Xuetong: China has made efforts and achieved some results in mediation and dialogue, which I think is widely recognized by the international community. It is evident that we have played a significant role.
There is also a point that even the Chinese media did not pay much attention to, which is that through our diplomatic efforts, we have worked to eliminate the risk of the Ukraine conflict escalating into a nuclear war. I believe this is a major diplomatic achievement for China this year.
If we consider security issues, the most significant concern for everyone is the occurrence of a nuclear war, which would not only harm a specific country but also humanity as a whole. Being able to prevent the escalation of war into a nuclear war is a major diplomatic achievement. It is probably incomparable to any other diplomatic achievement. China's achievements in international security surpass the recognition given by the international media. That is the first point.
Secondly, I think our recent successful mediation and efforts to prevent the escalation of wars have provided us with valuable experience. I believe China will make more diplomatic efforts in these areas and achieve more results in the future.
My question is related to the previous question. I want to ask about the Ukraine crisis. Last May, you published an article on the Ukraine crisis, and if I understand correctly, in that article, you mentioned that China does not support the war but also does not blame Russia. Has China's stance on the Ukraine crisis changed since last year? And how do you think the Ukraine war has affected China's relations with Western countries? Thank you.
Yan Xuetong: There are two questions. First, whether China's policy towards the Ukraine crisis has changed. Second, how the Ukraine war has affected China's relations with Western countries.
Regarding the first question, I think China's policy on the Ukraine war has undergone a change. Initially, China maintained a neutral position, and now China has become relatively active in promoting peace. Initially, China did not engage in extensive diplomatic efforts for mediation or peace promotion. I believe that starting from this year, CHina’s efforts to promote peace has become more noticeable. A typical example is Li Hui's mediation efforts in Europe and Russia. I think China's position has changed from initially maintaining neutrality to actively promoting peace. This is a significant change, and I believe China will do more work in this regard in the future.
As for the second question, the impact on China is evident. After the outbreak of the war, relations between China and Western countries, particularly Europe and the United States, further deteriorated. The war has led to a further deterioration in China's relations with Western countries. A typical example is that after the war, the United States and Europe started to hesitate or reduce their investments in China, and some companies even relocated from China.
From a military perspective, we can see that NATO countries are increasing their military presence in the Asia-Pacific region rather than decreasing it. Last year, when I was interviewed, I said that this war has only brought harm to China and no benefits. Many people criticized me, even saying that I am worse than an elementary school student and do not understand that this war serves as a strategic barrier and can contain the United States and Europe. However, what we have witnessed is that the United States has not deployed a single soldier to Europe. On the contrary, NATO countries in Europe have been increasing their military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. France, the UK, and Germany have been deploying more military forces. From a security perspective, this war has not enhanced China's security but has subjected China to more security threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
Politically, after the military support of Western countries to Ukraine, they have begun to impose strict restrictions and sanctions on Chinese companies. From this perspective, Chinese companies have suffered significant losses.
Personally, I believe that this war is still one of the major obstacles to the normalization of China's relations with Western countries.
From last year’s World Peace Forum
【TENTATIVE program as of Tuesday June 20, SUBJECT TO CHANGE]
The 11th World Peace Forum
Stabilizing an Unstable World through Consensus and Cooperation
Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs
July 1-3, 2023
July 1 (Saturday)
10:00-17:00 REGISTRATION (Liaoning International Hotel)
14:30-17:30 ROUNDTABLE: China-India Relations (Room L, 7F) (By Invitation)
16:00-17:45 JOINT PANEL: Climate and Multilateralism (Room A, 7F)
July 2 (Sunday)
08:00-09:30 REGISTRATION (Main Building, Tsinghua University)
09:30-10:00 OPENING CEREMONY (Lecture Hall, Main Building)
10:00-10:30 TEA BREAK
10:30-11:30 PLENARY (Lecture Hall, Main Building)
Theme: A New World Order in the Making
11:30-12:30 TRANSFER TO LIAONING INTERNATIONAL HOTEL
12:30-14:30 LUNCH MEETING (Conference Hall A, 8F) (blue/purple passes only)
14:30-15:30 PLENARY (Conference Hall B, 8F)
Theme: The Evolution of Multilateralism
15:30-16:00 TEA BREAK
16:00-17:45 PANELS (Conference Rooms, 7F)
1. Security in the Asia-Pacific: Challenges and Solutions (Room M)
2. Advancing Strategic Mutual Trust between China and Europe (Room L)
3. Promoting Green and Digital BRI Cooperation (Room A)
4. The Middle East: Geopolitical Transformation and Peace in the Region (Room C)
5. Nuclear Non-proliferation in an Unstable World (Room B)
6. The Balance between Economic Security and International Economic Cooperation (Room G)
18:00 BUFFET (1F) (blue/purple/rose passes only)
July 3 (Monday)
09:00-10:45 PANELS (Conference Rooms, 7F)
1. Shaping a New Framework for a Stable China-US Relationship (Room M)
2. Advancing BRICS Partnership for Global Development (Room L)
3. China-Africa Cooperation: Toward High-Quality Development (Room B)
4. The ASEAN Centrality and Regional Order (Room C)
5. Major-Power Collaboration in Managing Global Problems (Room A)
6. The GPT Moment and Artificial Intelligence Security (Room G)
10:45-11:15 TEA BREAK
11:15-12:45 PLENARY (Conference Hall B, 8F)
Theme: Major-Power Relations in Transition
13:00-14:30 BUFFET LUNCH (Conference Hall A, 8F)
14:30-16:00 PLENARY (Conference Hall B, 8F)
Theme: Regional Cooperation in Reform
16:00-16:30 TEA BREAK
16:30-18:15 PANELS (Conference Rooms, 7F)
1. The Search for a Political Solution of the Ukraine Crisis (Room M)
2. Practical Cooperation of the SCO: Chances and Challenges (Room C)
3. Latin America in a Changing World (Room B)
4. Supply Chain Reset and the Future of Globalization (Room G)
5. Security in Northeast Asia: New Trends and Challenges (Room L)
6. Common Security and International Cooperation in the Digital Space (Room A)
18:30 BUFFET (1F) (blue/purple/rose passes only)