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Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying's Interview with Spiegel

Beijing, 17 August 2011

SPIEGEL: Madame Fu Ying, few countries are more interesting to the West right now than China -- and few others alarm the West to the same degree, now that you have launched your first aircraft carrier. Why does China need to arm itself to this extent?

Fu Ying: The first aircraft carrier going to sea is a very exciting event in China. It's something that the Chinese people longed for. People think it's a natural step in the growth of the Chinese military -- although this so-called aircraft carrier was really just a framework of an aircraft carrier that we bought and refitted and will only be used for scientific research and training purposes. It's far, far from being a full-fledged aircraft carrier. In that sense, China is well behind other countries.

SPIEGEL: Are there not more pressing areas where that money could go rather than towards increasing the military budget?

Fu Ying: A number of areas are given a greater priority than the development of our defenses. The first emphasis is on economic development, the well-being of the people and the sharing of wealth. The generation of my daughter is the first that never experienced hunger in this country. That is unbelievable progress. Your concern about the Chinese military appears to me to be clouded by old ideological stereotypes about China. You feel comfortable with aircraft carrier ownership by your allies, like the United States and France, but you are more concerned if China also has one.

SPIEGEL: How far will China go in terms of defending its interests? In the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea, the tone can at times be quite sharp …

Fu Ying: We too are wondering why there is such strong rhetoric, since the countries involved are already engaged in dialogues on the basis of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. But this is a dispute of words, and what matters is that the shipping traffic in the South China Sea remains peaceful and there is no war or conflict going on.

SPIEGEL: The Americans clearly have doubts about your intentions. Pakistan is believed to have provided China with access to the wreckage of the high-tech US helicopter that crashed during an operation there. Are you in a position to confirm whether this is true?

Fu Ying: Both China and Pakistan have denied this rumor. I think the most important question is whether China and the US are enemies. Are we going to be in a war? Are we preparing for a war against each other? We certainly don't see it that way. It is not very friendly that the US maintains a weapons embargo against China. China has no intention to threaten the US. The West, however, tends to place China in the framework of the Cold War. This puzzles China a lot.

SPIEGEL: Many Germans, while respecting China’s development, see your country more as a rival than a partner. Is that something you can understand?

Fu Ying: I'm grateful you raised that point because it is something that has been on my mind for a long time. If you acknowledge China’s growth and accept that China has lifted countless people in the country out of poverty, then you also have to agree that China has done things right. One must also accept that there can be a different political system. The countries in the West think they have the only system that works. That may be the case for their own countries, but as we are now seeing with the latest financial crisis, they sometimes experience difficulties too.

SPIEGEL: Even long-time observers are puzzled over how political decisions are made in China. There is a lack of transparency. Does it really come as a surprise to you that many are wary of China's decisions and intentions?

Fu Ying: China’s political system is a product of China's history. It is based on the country's own culture and is subject to a constant reform process, which includes the building up of democratic decision-making processes. In order to make the right decisions, you have to listen to the people and their criticism. No government can survive if it loses touch with the people. And we do have a very critical view of ourselves.

At this moment it is the Western governments that are having problems. We are observing what is going on in the West. We try to understand why so many governments make so many mistakes? Why do political parties make commitments they cannot fulfill? Why do they spend so much more than they have? Has the West been stagnating since the end of the Cold War? Or has it just become conceited?

SPIEGEL: Democracies are very complicated and are at a disadvantage when compared with China. Do you feel superior?

Fu Ying: Superiority is the not the word we use. The Chinese are very modest. We respect your achievements and we learn from you. You are in the post-industrialized era. Many of the problems you encounter might occur in China later. So we want to see how you address those problems, and if we could learn from you.

SPIEGEL: The case of recently arrested artist Ai Weiwiei, who is well-connected in Berlin, was seen in Germany as a provocation. Was it intentional that he was arrested shortly after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle attended the opening of an exhibition in Beijing with Chinese officials?

Fu Ying: That's why I say you are conceited. You really take yourself very seriously. Why China, when deciding on domestic matters, try to make them coincide with a visit by a foreign minister from a European country? I don't see the connection. The case you are discussing is a matter under judicial investigation. I am not really interested in this case.

But how many more Chinese artists, writers, singers and movie stars do Germans know? Your view of China is very narrow and negative, and that's why we don't feel comfortable discussing human rights with you. Our understanding of human rights is based on the principles of the UN Charter, including the guarantee of political rights, the right to life and the right to development, etc. But in your view, human rights seem to concern only some individuals who are subverting the state or are breaching laws. Since Day One of our relationship with the West, human rights have been a subject for discussions. Many issues were discussed and solved and you keeping raising new ones. Today human rights have become a tool to criticize China, regardless of the fact that China has improved very much in this area and no matter how intensively we are working on the issue.

SPIEGEL: Does the fall of the governments of some Arab countries make the powerful country of China afraid of a handful of activists?

Fu Ying: What has happened in the Middle East has attracted attention all over the world. We too are trying to understand what led to these revolutions. As for China, I don't see any direct connection. Again, it's the habit of some Western analysts to connect everything bad with China. If you think your society is strong enough to avoid infection by the Arab revolution, what makes you think that the Chinese society is so weak that it has to be infected? Over 87% of Chinese surveyed in a poll by the Pew Research Center in 2010 said the government is on the right track. You don’t have results like that in polls done in the West.

SPIEGEL: China always shows pretty strong reactions when Western leaders meet with the Dalai Lama. You recommend that other countries should solve their disputes through dialogue. Why hasn't China succeeded in reaching an agreement with him?

Fu Ying: Our difficulty with the Dalai Lama is his political views and demands. If you read his demands in detail, you will see what he wants. In essence, he wants an independent Tibet. Tibet is part of China. But the door to dialogue is always open. I am glad that more and more people are visiting Tibet, and more and more people understand the improving life in Tibet better now.

SPIEGEL: Unfortunately, journalists are still not allowed access to Tibet.

Fu Ying: There is a bit of concern about the intentions and motives of Western journalists. Some of them report Tibet and the whole of China in a way as if they come to a wedding with no interest in the festivity, only focusing on a dark corner and write about it extensively. Some may be facts, but they are very selective facts.

SPIEGEL: The Dalai Lama has officially retired from his offices. Is this not a good point in time to seek a solution?

Fu Ying: It shows exactly that he has regarded himself as the king and god in one and is thus the owner of Tibet. But those days are over. Tibet is finally undergoing development, and the region truly is doing better and better. So it’s yet to be seen whether the Dalai Lama can truly relinquish his political demands.

SPIEGEL: It's not only Tibet which is developing at a fast pace. When the West has been up to its neck in debts, China has experienced fantastic growth. Has communism ultimately defeated capitalism?

Fu Ying: China is not the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the West and the former Soviet Union were at each other's throats. You each wanted to see the other side's demise; that was your strategic rivalry. But China has always supported Germany's reunification from very early on.

SPIEGEL: As of the end of June, China held US bonds with a total value of $1.165 trillion and European bonds worth $700 billion. Economically, China is already a superpower today. What does that mean for the political balance of power?

Fu Ying: Many say that power is shifting from the West to the East, but we believe that it is a diffusion of power. There is a need to reform the current world structure, which was built after World War II to accommodate around 1 billion people of the developed world. China is only one of the newly emerging countries. Brazil is growing. India is growing, as are parts of Africa. In the future, 3 to 4 billion people will be coming into this process of wider industrialization and reform is needed to accommodate their interests. But that reform needs to be an incremental process that is achieved not through war and not through conflict, but through dialogue.

SPIEGEL: Will the West wind up on the losing side?

Fu Ying: The Western countries are currently experiencing difficulties, but you have overcome so many difficulties in the past -- Europe and the US. It means a lot to us that you do bounce back. We are so interdependent, and your loss is not necessarily our gain. We're in one boat. And we indeed worry when Western economies are experiencing difficulties. That's why German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy talking about addressing the difficulties together is good news of the week. Very recently, my colleagues and I discussed the future of the European Union. The prevalent view was that if you work together to address the current difficulties, then the EU will go forward and become more integrated. If you do not, the euro zone might collapse.

SPIEGEL: What would it mean for China if the financial crisis in the West continues to expand?

Fu Ying: Everyone would suffer.

SPIEGEL: In the event of an economic crisis, would you need to be worried about your country's stability?

Fu Ying: Does the West need to worry about its system because of an economic crisis? Why would we be worried? Having said that, our reform is an on-going process and we will continue to move forward.

SPIEGEL: For a long time, the West believed that the developments in China were a win-win situation for everyone involved. Now, however, the impression is solidifying -- even within international institutions like the World Trade Organization -- that the Chinese want to shift the balance of the global economy to their advantage. The long-term policy of keeping the Renminbi artificially undervalued is just one example of this that is often cited.

Fu Ying: China has no intention to rule the world. But if you continue to see yourself as the center of the world, if you see yourself as the monopoly of all truths, all the right beliefs and all the right values, then you will always find it uncomfortable when you realize that the world is diversified in values and cultures. And if you believe you have won the Cold War, then the Cold War is finished, over, done. We are living in a new world. Don’t be condescending or patronizing. Please learn to respect others as equals and work with us if it’s not your intention to create a new rival in the style of the Cold War.

SPIEGEL: Many things in China, including some foreign policy practices, are difficult to understand for people with Western educational background. For example you have relations with the leaders of North Korea and North Sudan. What is your philosophy regarding this?

Fu Ying: Our own sufferings in history have taught us that we should never try to impose on other countries or support others to impose. We have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; we have hundreds of Chinese UN peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan. If every time you don’t like the leader of a country and then move in and intervene, that would only lead to chaos. Think of your own experience in intervention, which is not always successful.

SPIEGEL: You're referring to the military deployment in Afghanistan?

Fu Ying: You need to reflect on your own experience.

SPIEGEL: Given differences of opinion like that, how are powers supposed to cooperate in dealing with global challenges?

Fu Ying: We need to demolish the wall of distrust. If you keep drawing lines by your own feelings and values, then you will only create more problems. China is an enthusiastic participant in international affairs. You can find that, be it sending peacekeepers, or protecting shipping traffic off the coast of Somalia or addressing climate change.

SPIEGEL: How does it feel to be viewed as a new economic superpower?

Fu Ying: It is flattering.

SPIEGEL: Does it make you nervous, as well?

Fu Ying: Not at all. We don't view ourselves as a superpower. You are not going to see a US or a former Soviet Union in China. You are going to see a culturally nourished country with a big population, being more contented, being happy, being purposeful -- and it will be a friend to the world. Don’t worry about China. There is no such need.

SPIEGEL: Madame Fu Ying, we thank you for this interview.


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