In 1992, Deng Xiaoping, architect of China’s reform and opening up, toured some cities in south China. During the trip, he made remarks urging the whole nation to be bold in pushing forward reform and opening to the outside world. His milestone remarks led to double-digit economic growth in the 10 years between 1992 and 2002. Some people abroad were astonished. They wondered where China was going. Would China follow the footsteps of industrialized countries or the former Soviet Union?
To answer their questions and worries, I devoted much of my time to the studies of Chinese history and the history of the rise of former colonial powers and the Soviet Union. The result of my studies can be seen in my thesis on China’s peaceful rise that I put forward in 2002. Given the experience of the Chinese nation and the changes in international situation, China, I argued, is bound to take the path of peaceful rise.
China’s peaceful rise does not just concern China alone. In handling international relations, therefore, I believe we need a new approach. That was why I have proposed that China should build on its “convergence of interests” with other countries and devote its effort to building “communities of interests” in various fields and at various levels.
The world today is different from that of the 20th and 19th centuries. Thanks to globalization, the interests of various countries are so interwoven that one country’s misfortune or crisis may spread to or affect other countries. There are more and more convergences of interests in the world. To enlarge on those areas of overlapping interests is to add bricks to the building of communities of interests.
For China, development and stability remain top on the agenda. At present, the rising inflation rate, exchange-rate pressure on the Chinese currency (RMB), real estate bubbles, and the yawning gap between the rich and poor call for urgent solutions. In the longer term, economic restructuring; advancement in science, technology and education; and improvement of social governance, such as a comprehensive health and welfare system, are the three tasks of fundamental significance that we have to fulfill.
The most pressing problem in the United States is not security but the serious economic challenges – staggering government debts at both federal and state levels, unbalanced budgets, unstable economic growth, insufficient investment, high unemployment, and lack of confidence in the US dollar.
Europe’s most serious challenges come from within the European Union itself, rather than from other parts of the world. European countries face the pressing task of balancing budgets, sovereign debt repayment, economic recovery, and raising its international competitiveness.
To address our respective challenges, we all need a stable external environment, gradual reform of the international system, and a moderate approach to global governance.
Herein lies our greatest common interest. If China, the United States, and Europe all consider the stability of the other side and that of the international system as in their own interest, then a solid foundation can be laid for building communities of interests among us.
China is a major trade partner of both the United States, the biggest economy in the world, and Europe, the biggest economic grouping. Our economies are highly interdependent with each other. China, for example, holds a foreign currency reserve worth of $3.2 trillion US. It needs an outlet.
Appreciation of RMB is no way out. Investment benefits all. The United States and Europe are devoting great efforts to creating jobs. If Chinese enterprises can invest more in the US and Europe, there will be more jobs for the Americans and Europeans. In the other direction, there are also great opportunities for American and European business people to invest in China. What is important is to reduce and even tear down trade and investment barriers. In order to maintain stability of the world economy, we also need to strengthen consultations about the reform of the monetary system and financial regulation system.
Indeed, there are many other areas where our interests converge. Climate change and clean energy are two promising areas of cooperation. China and the US are the two biggest energy consumers, oil importers, and carbon emitters. Europe is also highly dependent on oil imports, which will reach 70 percent of its energy consumption in 2030.
Clean energy cooperation can offer great possibilities for our economic growth and technological innovation to the benefit of all sides. Other areas of converging interest include security in cyberspace, outer space, and maritime zones. These are areas that have a bearing on the security of mankind as a whole. They should be considered as “common spaces,” or, in more economic jargon, “global public goods.” It is necessary to establish common rules and ways of operation in all these areas through consensus.
With regard to security in East Asia (Northeast and Southeast Asia), there is a lot that China and the US can do together to maintain stability there and prevent any accident from evolving into an international crisis on the Korean peninsula. Although there are divergent interests and disputes, all countries concerned have realized that maintaining peace and stability and protecting shipping safety in the South China Sea is in their best interests.
To build communities of interests, it is essential first of all to carefully handle issues sensitive to each other. Stability of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait accords with everyone’s interest. China-US cooperation in this area is far from satisfactory. US arms sale to Taiwan remain a sensitive issue in bilateral relations. The two sides should try to solve it through consultation rather than letting it undermine our comprehensive cooperation.
Building communities of interests is a long process. Disputes and divergences among us may surface here and there. But as long as we are committed to the building of communities of interests, we can surely find a solution. Otherwise, a confrontational relationship will only derail our efforts to address our domestic challenges and cause international tension.
Enlarging common interests and gradually building communities of interests in the way I have described has been adopted as the official policy of the Chinese government.
When President Hu Jintao visited the United States last January, he called for expanding converging interests in his speeches. In China’s 12th five-year plan for economic and social development, one can also find the phrase “expanding converging interests.” This shows the importance the Chinese Government attaches to it.
In the recently issued white paper on China’s Peaceful Development, the Chinese government reaffirmed its position on relations with other countries. Let me quote:
”China aligns its own interests with the common interests of the people of the world and seeks to expand convergence of interests of all parties and to build and develop communities of interests with other countries and regions in various fields and at various levels. China is committed to promoting the common interests of the entire humanity and sharing the benefit of human civilization with everyone.”
This is China’s commitment to the world.
Zheng Bijian was for many years the executive vice-chairman of the Central Party School in Beijing. As the world became wary of China’s growing role as a major power, he proposed the doctrine of “China’s peaceful rise.”