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Home > China-UK Events > 2008
China After the Olympic Games
2008/11/04

Speech by Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hongbo

At the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Mr Nigel Inkster,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin with a story about Chinese tea. It is said that when they first got tea, people in Western Europe dared not drink it because they thought that it might be poisonous. So they tested it on two prisoners, who were twin brothers. They had one of them drink tea every day and the other drink coffee every day. After many years, the one drinking tea lived one year longer that the one drinking coffee. Then people's fears were gone and they started to drink Chinese tea.

What does this story tell us? It takes time and personal experiment for people to know and accept tea. Hence it is far more difficult to have a comprehensive understanding of China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, a civilization of 5,000 years and an area that is more than twice the total of the 27 EU member states.

The Beijing Olympic Games have provided the world with an opportunity to learn about a real China. All of a sudden, many Europeans seem to have discovered a China different from the one portrayed by the western media. So what is a real China like? They feel puzzled and confused. Some people are even wondering whether a strong China will pose a threat, invade other countries or adversely affect their way of life.

It is, therefore necessary for them to get a full and objective picture of China. So how to look at China? In my view, one may look at China from the following four perspectives:

First, the historical perspective. The Chinese are a peace-loving nation. We value "good-neighborliness and friendship" and believe that "peace is the most precious". The Chinese people built the Great Wall 2,000 years ago to defend ourselves against the Hun aggression. Although China invented gunpowder, we used it for making fireworks. Indeed during the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago, Zheng He, the great Chinese navigator, led the largest fleet in the world on "seven expeditions to the Western seas" and reached over 30 countries and regions both in Asia and Africa. The Chinese fleet brought them tea, porcelain, silk, handicrafts and friendship to the locals, without encroaching upon an inch of land. On the contrary, many European maritime powers were engaged in external expansion. Some expanded by 10 or even 100 times. Among the five nuclear-weapon-states in the world, China is the only one that has the courage to publicly undertake not to be the first to use nuclear weapons and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-states.

Having long suffered from the bullying of foreign powers in modern times, the Chinese people are fully aware of the agony of a country being denied independence and families being shattered. Therefore, we will never impose the same pains on others. China was not and will never be a threat. China will always work to promote and uphold world peace.

Second, the realistic perspective. Some people think that China is already a "super power". Such a view is open to question. China's reality is that it is a country with the largest population, weak economic foundation, limited resources, underdeveloped productivity, and imbalanced regional development. And the new problems that keep emerging in China's development can by no means be resolved any time soon.

It is true that China is the world's fourth largest economy and it has the biggest foreign exchange reserves. But another important fact is that China is below the 100th place in terms of per capita income. There are about 26 million people still living in poverty in rural areas. Every year, jobs need to be created for nearly 24 million people, which is more than one third of the UK's population. Over 80 million disabled people need assistance, more than the UK's total population. Therefore, China remains a developing country that has a big gap with the developed countries.

Industrialization and modernization for one fifth of the world's population is something never seen in the history of mankind. It is natural that we will inevitably encounter unprecedented difficulties in the course of development. We are keenly aware of where we are. For China to grow and its people to get prosperous, we need a peaceful and stable environment in its neighborhood and in the whole world. If such an external environment is undermined, it will not only do disservice to people across the world but also be detrimental to the interests of the Chinese people and hamper China's development.

Third, the dynamic perspective. Over the past few years, China has grown and made steady progress amid doubts and criticism. May be it is the easiest thing to criticize China by citing one or two individual cases out of one fifth of the world's population. What is important is to objectively view China's overall progress with a dynamic perspective. Thanks to 30 years of reform and opening-up, China has made remarkable economic and social progress. The Chinese people's mentality is undergoing profound changes. The level of democracy and freedom they enjoy is never seen before. The public have open discussions about the government's performances. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center based in the United States suggested that 86% of the Chinese polled were satisfied with the direction the country was moving in, higher than any other country. This is by no means accidental.

As for democracy, I wish to say that it is not a patent of one or two particular countries. Democracy exists in both capitalist and socialist countries. Different countries may have different views about the standard of democracy, and it takes time for democracy to mature. A review of modern and contemporary history of Europe and the United States has shown that it took them many years to reach where they are today.

I noticed that when the Chinese people got themselves involved in and gave support to the Paralympic Games with the same enthusiasm and with the same support, some western media that had accused China of not caring too much about people with disabilities showed little interest and drastically reduced their coverage and broadcast of the Games. It seems that to them, commercial interests were far more important than their attention to the physically challenged.

Fourth, the cultural perspective. Of the four great civilizations in the world, only the Chinese civilization has survived and been kept intact. Why? It shows the sustainability and inherent vitality of the traditional Chinese culture.

I know the West places emphasis on the individual. However, the Chinese people emphasize collectivism. It is not a political philosophy imposed on the Chinese people by the authorities. Unlike the European continent, which enjoys favorable geographical and climatic conditions, China is periodically prone to large-scale natural disasters. One thing the Chinese people have learnt in their fight against disasters is that we can overcome disasters and survive only with collective strength. The devastating earthquake that hit Sichuan this year is a case in point. 130 thousand servicemen and women and 300 thousand volunteers immediately rushed to the scene for rescue and relief. This is a vivid example of collectivism. The Chinese characters of the word "country" consist of two words, namely "country" and "home". The Chinese people believe a home is possible only when there is a country. And the Chinese people take their country as their home. This is in the Chinese culture.

Harmony is the very essence of the Chinese culture. If we split up the two Chinese characters that form the word "harmony", they mean respectively "food in one's mouth" and "everyone has the say". That was what an ideal society should look like in the eyes of the ancient Chinese. The concept of harmony in China calls for a harmonious relationship between different people, between people and nature, people and society and people and the world. The Chinese leaders have proposed the concept of a harmonious world, with the hope of promoting a world with enduring peace and common prosperity. It is the ideal of the Chinese people, and it also meets the interests and aspiration of the people around the world.

I have said too much; let me come back to the topic of my speech today: China after the Olympic Games. This year marks the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up program. We have learnt from our experience over the past 30 years that China can not achieve progress or any of the development in isolation from the world, and the world can not enjoy prosperity or stability without China. China's future and destiny is increasingly tied to the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In what direction will China go after the Beijing Olympic Games? I have my observations that I would like to share with you. First, China will remain committed to the path of peaceful development. This is the long-term strategic decision of the Chinese Government, and also the aspiration of us Chinese people. Second, China will continue to develop itself through reform and innovation, and will continue to open up to the world and cooperate with other countries in the world. Third, China will develop itself by maintaining the peaceful international environment, and will promote world peace through China's own development. Fourthly and lastly, China will work with the international community to jointly promote a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.

Thank you.

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