In an exclusive interview with Beijing Review on February 17, Sun Yuxi, former spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and former Ambassador to Afghanistan, India, Italy and Poland, spoke about the history, difficulties and prospects of China-U.S. relations. An edited version of his comments are as follows.
During my service in the Foreign Ministry, China and the United States had cooperated on various issues and managed our differences in the process.
One of the most successful examples involved Afghanistan. Washington waged a war on terrorism worldwide following the "9/11" terrorist attacks in 2001. It toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and carpet bombed Al-Qaeda training camps in the country. I was sent to Kabul as China's ambassador to Afghanistan in 2002 right after the war started. According to what I had experienced, various members of the international community were acting in concert, each with their own specific responsibility to help the nation rebuild itself during the process of the war on terror.
The United States was in charge of building the Afghan army; Germany had the task of setting up the Afghan police force; Italy was responsible for reestablishing law and order; the UK focused on tackling narcotics trafficking; and China helped Afghanistan handle its delicate relations with its neighbors—as the nation's rebuilding required support from neighboring states.
In fact, a lot of projects in Afghanistan which were awarded to the United States were constructed by Chinese engineers and workers because few people in the United States were willing to work in Afghanistan, and even if they wished to, the costs were excessively high. I recall a particular hydropower project in Kandahar. The United States agreed to build the plant but needed a feasibility report requiring a team of a dozen engineers on the ground. They proposed a preliminary estimation cost of $5 million as the team of engineers would need at least a platoon of security guards, four armed vehicles and two helicopters. The Afghan authorities asked our price, and I found it would only take $500,000 for the Chinese to do the same job. The ten-fold difference was due partially to the high cost of providing security for U.S. workers, as the local Taliban forces felt much greater hostility toward the United States than China.
The most tragic moment between China and the United States when I was Foreign Ministry spokesman was when the United States bombed our embassy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which led to my unprecedented 60-hour press conference.
The Chinese people were enraged, believing the attack was a calculated move by Washington and were demanding revenge. I had to ask repeatedly, should we bomb their embassy and wage war? Drop atomic bombs on one another and raze Beijing and Washington to the ground? Let 1 billion Chinese and 100 million Americans die together? No! Immediately resorting to violence just for the sake of retaliation is not something China does or will ever do.
Eventually, then President Bill Clinton apologized publicly and we found a way forward. This tragic page of history has been turned, and I hope such an event never happens again.
I'm optimistic that no major military conflict will occur between China and the United States. Instead, we should act together in coping with other kinds of "world wars": terrorism, pollution, epidemics and the like.
The Korean Peninsula is another issue in which China and the United States have cooperated closely. We initiated the four-party talks (China, the United States, North Korea and South Korea), which subsequently became the six-party talks with the inclusion of Russia and Japan. During the four-party period, I was deputy chief of the mission of our embassy in South Korea. Once again, we acted jointly in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and maintaining regional peace and stability.
Now, though, there's a major difference: the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system. I find it difficult to understand how this has come about. We consulted each other on previous measures against North Korea, but the United States did not consult with us about such deployment, which actually will cover a large part of Chinese territory.
Now that Donald Trump has taken office, China is being patient. Top level consultation is urgently needed to prepare for a summit between the two presidents. President Xi Jinping talked with former President Obama many times through various channels. I hope President Trump and his team will take note of the fruits of those discussions and further update China-U.S. relations.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
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