“In the world of international relations, no relationship is as important as that between China and the United States,” said David Wippman, vice provost for international relations.
Shortly after this statement, Zhou Wenzhong, China’s ambassador to the United States, took the stage at Kennedy’s Call Auditorium to address members of the Cornell community about the current state of the U.S. and China’s relations.
The topics covered ranged from the economic status of china to the militarization of outer space — which, according to Zhou, is something China will never take part in. The topic that generated the most questions and concerns, however, was the issue of Taiwanese independence.
“An appropriate approach to the Taiwan question is crucial in maintaining stability and development of the China-U.S. relationship, and ensuring smooth cooperation between the two countries,” Zhou said. “If the Taiwan question is handled well, the relationship between China and the U.S. will develop steadily. If not, there will be twists and turns, and even grave set-backs.”
The audience grew silent at the mention of the problems that the Taiwan issue could potentially generate for the relations between China and the U.S. The ambassador elaborated, drawing on a cultural reference:
“As the Chinese saying goes, blood is thicker than water. Conflicts within the family are nobody’s desire,” Zhou said. “China will never tolerate Taiwan independence. We will do everything we can do to stop [it].”
Despite this firm stance, some students believed that he handled the question gently.
“I thought he handled [the Taiwan question] well, he didn’t seem too aggressive about it, he just said ‘this is what our stance is’,” Shannon Men ’07 said.
Other students thought that his response warranted suspicion of his motives regarding the statements.
“He seemed like he needed to pretend he was someone he was not in order to promote good relations between the two countries. Especially with the Taiwan issue, his response was ‘nice’, but you could tell from his reasoning that if a country were to go against China’s interests, they would become an enemy of China. It’s not completely apparent, it seems hidden, but that’s what I think,” said Yuan Li Ren ’10.
Regardless of interpretation, Zhou made a direct request to the United States to respect China’s wishes concerning the matter, and to cease all aid to Taiwan.
“China hopes that the Unites States will honor and adhere to this one China policy,” Zhou said. “Stop sending the mass weapons to Taiwan, and stop sending any wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces. We hope that the U.S. will work with China to unequivocally oppose and renounce any form of Taiwan independence activities.”
The speech initially tended to steer clear of any dangerous waters, choosing to focus instead upon the improving relations between the two countries, as well as the peaceful development and evolution of China itself.
“China’s industrialization is taking a new path. We will focus on scientific programs, good economic returns, lower resource consumption, and less environmental pollution,” Zhou said. “We aim to build a harmonious world.”
In correlation to this desire for world peace, Zhou brought up the Darfur crisis as an example of how China and the U.S. are working together towards this common goal.
“China and the U.S. are also in close consultation and cooperation with each other matters regarding the Middle East and Darfur,” Zhou said.
Concerns regarding the economic relationship between the U.S. and China arose during the question and answer segment of the address. Zhou attempted to calm the concerns, citing several positive figures indicating the expansion of the trade between the two countries.
“I think the two economies are highly complementary to one another,” Zhou said. “If you don’t buy the things [that the U.S. is unable to manufacture on its own] from China, then you will have to buy them from other sources, at a higher price.”
Because of the broad range of the topic’s discussion, the reasons for each listener’s presence varied widely.
“I came because my parents came from China, and I think I grew up always knowing that U.S.-Chinese relationships are important, and I thought this would be a good idea,” Men said. “I wanted to see what the ambassador was like, and how diplomatic he was, and how strong his stance was on the Chinese side. I felt like he was really diplomatic; he was very culturally informed, especially of the United States, and he had his stances, but he wasn’t too forceful.”
Chen Jian, the director of China and Asia-Pacific Studies asked the ambassador what he thought caused the major change in China-U.S. relations over the years.
“[The expansion of common interests] has made it possible for our two countries to resolve differences through consultations, not confrontation,” Zhou said.
This desire to keep friendly relations open, and avoid conflict was the main theme of the address. His last lines paralleled this sentiment:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, looking into the future, I believe that both China and the United States should always approach and handle our relationship from a strategic height and a long term perspective, and then work together to enhance mutual trust, widen our horizons, and open our minds to expand the areas of our cooperation and our shared interest,” Zhou said. “As long as we both handle our differences this way, tomorrow will surely be an even better day for China-U.S. relations.”