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Envoys stress wisdom of ties 45 years later

By MAY ZHOU and RENA LI in Atlanta | | Updated: 2024-01-10 17:45
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The complex US-China relations are discussed extensively at the Forum in Honor of Jimmy Carter & the 45th Anniversary of US-China Relations at The Carter Center in Atlanta on Tuesday. [Photo by MAY ZHOU/China Daily]

The Chinese and American ambassadors agreed Tuesday that the establishment of the US-China relationship 45 years ago was the right move, and both countries intend to move the relationship forward despite the challenges in the past few years.

Close to 200 people gathered at the Carter Center in Atlanta on Tuesday to participate in a forum in honor of former US president Jimmy Carter and the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

More than 100 connected via video to the event at which five panel discussions explored the complicated relations, focusing on the history and current challenges in trade and business, technology, military, climate change and public health.

The discussion was co-hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations, the US-China Business Council, and the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns praised Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Carter for establishing the diplomatic relationship in January 1979, saying that "it was correct in every way".

Chinese Ambassador to the US Xie Feng said that the relationship "has boosted the well-being of the two peoples, and also contributed to peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and the world".

Both ambassadors, who spoke to the event via video, said that the two countries could take inspiration from the history of the relationship.

"We believe that the most important inspiration is that China and the United States stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation, and working together is our only correct choice," Xie said.

"Looking back, we can take some inspiration as to what we would have to do now in 2024 to stabilize the relationship," said Burns.

Both men said that the November summit between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden in California helped to stabilize the relationship.

"We need to embark on a new journey from San Francisco onward, start with concrete steps, and faithfully deliver on the important common understandings reached between our presidents," Xie said.

Burns said he's glad that the California summit saw both sides reaching agreement in fentanyl control; a discussion on cooperation in artificial intelligence; resuming military talks on all levels; and helping facilitate people-to-people exchanges.

"It was really important for both sides to decide that we had to push forward those contacts because COVID had pulled us apart in the last three and a half years," Burns said.

He said that the summit was a culmination of the relationship in 2023, and both sides were convinced that "despite the very real and important differences between us out of competitive nature, we had to make sure we're able to carry continuous discussions at the highest level".

While Burns talked about the competition, Xie said "it is important to reject the Cold War mentality, and develop a right perception toward each other. Policymaking is based on how we perceive each other, which will then lead to actions with results.

"Are we adversaries or partners? This is the fundamental and overarching question we need to answer. If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, a pacing threat and a target for containment, improving and stabilizing bilateral relations would be out of the question," Xie said.

He said competition should be fair, not a zero-sum game and "still less a pretext for depriving others of their legitimate development rights and interests".

"If we do need to compete, then let's compete to do a better job in running our country and contribute more to the stability and prosperity in the region and the world," Xie said.

Both ambassadors advocated for working together more. Burns said that there are just under 300,000 Chinese students in the US today, and 100,000 new student visas were issued in just the last eight months.

The number of American students in China is still quite low.

"We hope American students will come back to China. With the student population in both countries, we make sure to reinforce the idea that the younger population need to know each other in their 20s and 30s so that when they become leaders in our governments and nonprofit organizations, they will know each other," Burns said.

Xie said China is actively implementing President Xi's initiative to invite 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years. The requirement for tourist visas has been relaxed. New plans for panda conservation are under discussion.

Xie said he recently met a group of American students from Columbia University and the University of Virginia.

"They expressed their admiration for China's time-honored history and splendid culture, marveled at the warm hospitality of the Chinese people, and ranked China as one of the most open and safest countries in the world," Xie said.

"I would encourage all of you to visit our country and see it for yourselves."

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