Speeches and Public Statements
Remarks on behalf of the American Delegation to the Third Annual U.S. - China Track II Dialogue
Welcoming Banquet in Beijing, People’s Republic of China
January 16, 2012
by Henry A. Kissinger
Mr. Vice President, State Councilor Tang, Ambassador Yang, Distinguished Guests,
On behalf of the American delegation, thank you for this warm welcome, for your gracious words, and for the tremendous hospitality shown to our delegation. Hospitality was a striking attribute of China during President Nixon’s visit forty years ago. It remains a distinguishing feature of China today. My colleagues and I especially appreciate the major effort that our Chinese hosts have made in organizing such a successful event in light of the approaching New Year, when there are so many competing demands on your time. We would like to thank in particular State Councilor Tang, who has been an exceptionally thoughtful host.
Mr. Vice President, your presence here is a testament to the high level of importance that China’s leaders place on the relationship between our two countries. I remember with great pleasure our first meeting in Shanghai, the warmth of your greeting, and the scope of our discussions. Vice President Biden has also recounted with enthusiasm the trip through China in which you accompanied him. The American leaders look forward to welcoming you in turn to the United States. And they view your visit as an important opportunity to advance the U.S.-China relationship on a wide range of issues.
Mr. Vice President, you were kind enough to refer to the historic visit of President Nixon to China and the contribution I was fortunate to be able to make to it. As the last survivor of the principals at this meeting, it has a special significance to me. Its importance was not only that it opened relations, but that it started a process which has lasted, and grown, through eight American Presidents and four generations of Chinese leaders.
In this new year – the forthcoming Year of the Dragon – there will be a new Chinese generation taking responsibility, as well as an American election. I have every confidence that the fifth generation of Chinese leaders and whoever wins the American election will embrace the basic principles that have brought us to this point and build on them for even closer cooperation.
What are these principles? The first principle has been an emphasis on fundamentals. When President Nixon met Chairman Mao, the Chairman said: “I deal with the philosophical questions.” Later, he said that the “big issue” for the United States and China to discuss was “the world.” President Nixon reflected the same attitude. This allowed them to set aside the disputes that had divided the two countries through 136 ambassadorial meetings over twenty years. Each leader had surveyed the international landscape and concluded – independently, but simultaneously – that his country had much more to gain from cooperation than from estrangement or hostility; and indeed that world peace required that the two countries work together. These are fundamental realities that have continued to this day.
The second principle has been respect for each other’s thinking and traditions – and also a human understanding. It has formed the basis for the friendship that has developed between so many of the leaders over the past four decades. From very different cultural and historic starting points, they have formed personal ties of uncommon depth. And when new challenges have arisen, these ties have allowed them to relate to each other’s concerns instinctively. After the attacks of September 11, President Jiang Zemin called President Bush immediately to express sympathy and support. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, President Hu, President Obama and their top officials have regarded each other as partners in a common endeavor of sustaining the global economic recovery.
The third principle has been a recognition of each other’s national interests. American and Chinese leaders have not treated their dialogue as a favor that either country does for the other. At every stage, each leader has had his own country’s interests at heart. They have arrived at parallel assessments of a common necessity.
The Shanghai Communiqué signed during President Nixon’s visit reflected that spirit. It was not a typical diplomatic document: it contained sections stating the Chinese view on subjects and sections stating the American view, and the positions did not always coincide. The document allowed each side to state its principles and its interests, and it highlighted the areas where they coincided. It has proven an enduring framework. The basic principles of the Shanghai Communiqué, as elaborated in subsequent U.S.-China communiqués, have been maintained by eight American administrations of both parties and all of their counterparts through four generations of Chinese leaders.
The fourth principle has been an emphasis on continuity. President Carter and Deng Xiaoping completed the normalization process in a second communiqué. President Reagan and Deng Xiaoping concluded a third communiqué. President Jiang Zemin and Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush deepened relations further as China entered the World Trade Organization. President Hu Jintao and Presidents Bush and Obama inaugurated a new stage, with China reentering the global order as a major economy and an indispensable partner.
Fifth, during this period there have been occasional crises, but China and the United States have never let disagreements dominate the relationship. When two great countries with different histories and cultures interact, some tensions are inevitable. It is the distinguishing feature of the relationship that Chinese and American leaders have always defused tensions and achieved constructive outcomes. Following the same spirit as the Nixon-Mao summit forty years ago, they have kept their eye on the fundamental reality that good relations between the United States and China are in the national interest of both countries.
So where are we today? Much has changed in the world, and in our two countries, in the last forty years. If someone had told us four decades ago what China would look like today, it would have seemed a fantasy. It is a tribute to the Chinese people’s vision of their future, which they have worked to bring about with tremendous determination and through their own efforts.
But during all this period of upheaval and transformation, the relationship between the two countries has endured, and deepened. Each successive Chinese leadership group has affirmed its predecessors’ commitment to U.S.-China relations. On the American side, the relationship with China has proven one of the most consistent, firmly-rooted and bipartisan foreign policies in the American experience.
The Obama administration is committed to continuing with the cooperative direction outlined by President Hu and President Obama at their January 2011 summit. And I fully expect that this will remain the consistent direction of the other party – my own – regardless of the occasional exuberance of campaign rhetoric.
The composition of our delegation reflects the policy’s broad basis of support in the United States. It is composed of veterans of every presidential administration since the original Sino-U.S. opening. All have come here out of a deep commitment to building the relationship between our countries. All share a conviction that close and cooperative U.S.-China relations are in the American interest.
This is particularly true today, because the 21st century’s most significant issues are global in nature: proliferation, the environment, energy security, cyberspace, and the health of world economy and the international financial system. These are not issues in the resolution of which one country wins and another loses. They can be addressed successfully only through U.S.-China consultation and cooperation. And it is in this context that the United States and China have an opportunity to explore a new direction together, beyond traditional forms of great-power rivalry.
The new global issues facing us today are inherently complex. They will not be solved in any single dialogue. But the members of this Track II meeting can strive to play a constructive role. If we can work together to develop common projects in some of these areas, it will give both sides a continuing imperative to work together, and it will demonstrate to our publics the broad range of our common interests.
In that spirit, the American Track II delegation looks forward to continuing the fruitful discussions already begun in these meetings, and to holding many more exchanges in the future.
Therefore, I would like to propose a toast:
To Vice President Xi Jinping,
To the great Chinese people,
A happy and successful new Year of the Dragon;
To the enduring friendship between the Chinese and American people,
To Sino-U.S. friendship as a permanent feature of the 21st-century international landscape.