Visiting Minnesota for the first time, Hong Lei, consul general of the Consulate General of The People's Republic of China in Chicago, spent several days here recently. His schedule included diverse schedule of events: a luncheon with the business community, a meeting with the University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, a reception with 70 Chinese visiting scholars, a campus lecture primarily for Chinese students and a dinner reception at Mall of America.
More than 250 students from China currently attending the University and other invited guests attended Hong’s speech, “Let History be Guidance to Future: Jointly Building A New Type of Major Country Relationship between China and US is the Historic Trend,” was delivered in English at the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
He stated it was his honor to have the opportunity to share with the group his thoughts and views on China-U.S. relations and China’s foreign policy.
“The past predicts the future,” he noted. “History tells us where the two countries will go. The last 40 years have shown that China and the U.S. should continue to cooperate to build the partnership, or what we often refer to as building a new model of major country relationship.”
He questioned where Sino-U.S. relations should be headed 40 years later and added that a reflection on the past should let us know what we do in the future.
Reflecting on the past, he noted that in 1979, China and the U.S. agreed to establish diplomatic relations, a historic event of the greatest strategic significance for international relations in the latter half of the 20th century. It had not only opened up a new page in the history of China-U.S. relations, but also carried far-reaching impact on the evolving international arena. “Thanks to joint efforts of successive leaders and the people of both countries, China-U.S. relations have weathered twists and turns and made unprecedented progress.”
In 1979, the annual bilateral trade volume between China and the U.S. was only $2.45 billion, and surged to $560 billion in 2015. Two-way investment, which was insignificant in the early days, exceeded $150 billion. From January to July 2016, Chinese investments in the U.S. grew at a rate of 210 percent, and U.S. investments in China grew 130 percent. “Now China and the U.S are economically integrated with each other.” According to IMF data, from 2010 to 2015, China and the U.S. contribute an average of 67 percent to global economic growth combined, with a record high of 111 percent in 2012.
Throughout his talk, Hong presented many examples of what had taken place between China and the U.S. since 1979: many summit meetings, government initiatives the creation of sister provinces/states as well as sister cities, Today, more than 10,000 Chinese and Americans fly over the Pacific every day, compared to only a few thousand people visiting each country back in 1979.
It also was noted that the cooperation between China and the U.S. was nothing like what we have today in scope and intensity illustrated by current challenges. Hong noted that in the37 years since diplomatic relations resumed, both countries have moved away from a state of no contact to become a community of intertwined interests that now is the trend of our time, and the trend of history dictates that both countries need to tackle a few important issues:
We need to enhance strategic trust. He noted, “We’re not going to confront anybody, nor do we have any intention to replace any country.” In Hong’s opinion, “China’s growth is good for China and good for the U.S. in the end.”
China and the U.S. have entered into an era of interdependence, and “nobody can live without the other.” Both China and the U.S. are big in terms of trade, investment and people-to-people exchange. “If conflict happens to us, both of us will lose given our high degree of integration,” Hong said.
China does not promote expansionism, which the consul general referenced historic and cultural factors to allay those concerns. “We have no reason to challenge the international order, which is based on victory over fascism, nor do we have the motive to overthrow the international system, which we are fully committed to build.”
As for concern about the South China Sea issue and other situations that have created instability in those regions, the consul general asserted historic and legal evidence on China’s right to safeguard its territorial integrity and sovereignty, but remains committed to peaceful resolutions of disputes through dialogue and consultation in accordance with international law. China insists on promoting the negotiation on the code of conduct in the South China Sea and strives to reach an agreement as soon as possible. China insists on maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and ensuring all countries enjoy freedom of navigation and over flight in accordance with the international law. “These are our positions, which shall not change in the future.”
Some Americans are worried whether China will squeeze the U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region if China grew stronger. “The answer is definitely no. China is a staunch supporter of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region. China's legitimate national interests must be safeguarded,” Hong said.
“In closing, Hong commented that all countries in the world are paying close attention to the U.S. presidential election. He hopes that whatever changes may take place in China and the U. S., both sides will move forward along the path of building a new model of major country relationship. “No matter what kind of contradictions the two countries will have in the future, both China and the U. S. should respect each other, maintain communication, increase credibility, dispel doubts, continuously expand consensus, resolve differences, and maintain healthy and stable development of bilateral relations.” No matter what problems and challenges the international community will face in the future, both countries should strengthen cooperation with each other in safeguarding world peace and promoting human development.
Following the presentation, was a Q&A session. Most of the questions were from the students on what they, as students from China, could do to help promote better China-U.S. relations. The consul general stated that the students are actually serving as ambassadors from China and must do all they could to promote the understanding of Chinese culture while learning as much as they could about the U.S. since cultural exchange between the two countries was just as important as the academic education they were receiving at the University.
Following the presentation, Hong and his associates traveled to the FireLake Grill House at Mall of America (MOA) for a dinner reception hosted by the management of the Mall. The dinner was attended by guests from the Chinese community. Prior to the dinner, the MOA management announced that MOA plans to host a Chinese New Year celebration on Jan. 28, 2017, to welcome the Year of the Rooster. The all-day event will include performances and activities held throughout the Mall.
Editor’s note: Hong Lei was appointed as the Chinese Consul General in Chicago in July 2016 and is responsible for nine states in the Midwest: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. Such appointments typically are for two years.