Don’t try to change China’s system, former official warns US

Guo Rui
·4-min read

A former senior Chinese diplomat has urged the United States not to try to change China’s political system, warning of a “historic tragedy” if the two countries slid into conflict.

“China has no intention of replacing the US role in the world, nor does it believe that the US has the ability to change the Chinese system,” former vice foreign minister Fu Ying told an online meeting on Friday organised by the State Council’s China Development Forum.

Accusing the US of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, Fu, now head of the Centre for International Strategy and Security at Tsinghua University, said the possibility of stable but competitive relations between the two countries depended on whether each party’s concerns were taken seriously.

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“In recent years, Americans have begun to worry about other countries interfering in the US presidential election, so can they understand why other countries are so sensitive to US finger-pointing?” she said at the event attended by officials and business leaders.

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Fu’s warning came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Taiwan “has not been a part of China”.

“That was recognised with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for 3½ decades,” Pompeo said.

Earlier, he had also described the Communist Party as the “central threat of our times”, and called for other countries to induce change in the party’s behaviour. In July, he said the international community must engage and empower Chinese people who were “completely distinct from” the party.

The comments were seen in China as advocating regime change.

China’s former vice foreign minister Fu Ying. Photo: Simon Song
China’s former vice foreign minister Fu Ying. Photo: Simon Song

Chinese officials and state media repeatedly denounced Pompeo, and Beijing accused the US of meddling in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.

Fu said the US had to understand that Beijing stood firm on reunification with Taiwan and Washington should refrain from challenging China’s position on the South China Sea.

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Relations between China and the US have plummeted over the past four years, with the two nations locked in a trade war, at odds over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and jockeying for position in the South China Sea.

Some analysts have suggested that the two countries are at risk of descending into a cold war.

But former US treasury secretary Larry Summers said a cold war model was not helpful, and it was not for either China or the US to convert the other.

“It is not for you to remake our system. It is not for us to remake your system. But it is to reach and keep understandings on matters most essential to the future of the world,” Summers said at the same forum.

“So my hope is that we can take the temperature down that we can each identify a limited number of fundamental core interests and ask that they be respected and that we can focus on balancing our power in areas where confrontation is possible.”

But he added that China should respect US concerns on practices that could provoke tensions between the two nations such as those involving “technology and intrusions into internal institutions of the other nation”.

He said that, for example, he had heard of incidents in which foreign universities were told to censor various professors if they wanted to recruit Chinese students. He had also heard of Chinese students reporting back on comments made by other students or filming lectures.

Fu said China needed to address legitimate concerns raised by US companies, but the US should also ensure that Chinese companies operating in the United States were treated fairly.

She also said that China and the US needed to work together at the global level to combat the pandemic, cope with climate change, and improve cybersecurity.

David Rubenstein, co-executive chairman of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, told the forum that the future of US-China relations could improve under the administration of US president-elect Joe Biden.

“One year from today, I expect we will be talking about how the relationship has improved, though it’s not perfect ... and how it can get better. But I do think that we should recognise that it’s not going to be as easy as we would like it to be,” he said.

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