WEB UPDATE: Chinese ambassador speaks on Sino-U.S. relations

Zhou Wenzhong, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, discussed China’s foreign policy and Sino-U.S. relations in a packed Salomon 101 Thursday afternoon.

Zhou discussed trade with the United States, economic development and Taiwan in a 15-minute lecture, part of the Watson Institute for International Studies’ Directors Lectures Series on Contemporary International Affairs. After the lecture, Zhou fielded questions from the audience for about 40 minutes.

Outside on the Main Green, about a dozen students from the Brown Darfur Action Network rallied before the speech to protest China’s involvement in the conflict in Sudan. Protesters distributed flyers outlining China’s “connections to the genocide in Darfur,” and held signs that read “China Funds Genocide,” “Complicity in Genocide” and “No Blood For Oil.” One large banner read “Beijing ’08 Genocide Olympics,” referring to a potential contradiction between the Olympic spirit and Chinese policy in Sudan.

Some individuals criticized Chinese policy in their questions to the ambassador, but the lecture proceeded without disturbance.

“China has achieved a historical leap from a subsistence economy to moderate prosperity,” Zhou said.

“However, China remains a developing country faced with many bumps in its road to development. Its basic national condition – namely a huge population, a weak economic foundation, developmental imbalances and relatively low living standards – remains unchanged,” Zhou said. “The central task for China will always be always be promoting social and economic development and improving the living standards of the people.”

“China’s road of peaceful development underlies our independent foreign policy of peace,” Zhou said. “China does not … impose its values on others, does not enter into alliances with any country or country group, does not interfere in other countries internal affairs or allow others to interfere in its own internal affairs.” Zhou said.

Zhou described China’s foreign policy as peaceful and amiable. “China opposes … and will never seek hegemony,” he said. “A China that pursues an independent foreign policy of peace seeks to build friendly relationships.”

Zhou emphasized the importance of commerce to the relationship between the United States and China. “The Chinese and the U.S. economies are highly complementary to each other, promising vast prospects for further cooperation,” Zhou said.

“China has been the fastest growing export market for the U.S. for three consecutive years, U.S. exports to China have grown by about 200 percent in the last five years and trade between China and the U.S. has brought along four to eight million job opportunities in America,” he said.

Zhou said the China-U.S. relationship also includes other forms of cooperation, including on foreign policy with Iran and the Middle East, “the Darfur issue” and environmental matters. Zhou concluded his lecture on the subject of Taiwan, which the People’s Republic of China considers its territory though it has been effectively independent since 1949.

“The Taiwan question bears on the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of China. It involves China’s core national interests, and it touches upon the national sentiment of the Chinese people,” he said.

Zhou said the U.S. should “stop sending advanced weapons to Taiwan and stop sending any wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces. We hope that the U.S. will work with China to unequivocally oppose and repulse any form of Taiwan independence activities.”

“Ambassador Zhou’s visit today comes at a particularly appropriate time for Brown,” said Barbara Stallings, director of the Watson Institute, in her introduction to the lecture.

Stallings described the University’s recent focus on internationalization through evaluating curricular offerings, promoting international diversity on campus and developing new opportunities with students and faculty at institutions in Asia. The University appointed a committee on internationalization last November to explore ways Brown can improve the international component of its education and research efforts and raise its global profile.

Student response to Zhou’s visit was varied but generally positive.

“As Professor Stallings said, it’s terribly important that the University increase its ties with China,” said Michael Boyce ’08.

“I thought that the ambassador conducted himself very diplomatically,” said Nathaniel Levy ’10. “The majority of people asking questions seemed very bent on trying to provoke the ambassador or elicit some sort of reaction on a provocative issue, which he was obviously not going to do, seeing as he was there as a diplomatic presence, not to engage in debate.”

Yasmine Yu ’10 said she appreciated Zhou’s detailed answers to questions, but was less impressed with the lecture. “I feel like that was just more of a general statement of China’s official position,” she said.

“I had a preconceived notion of what I thought the ambassador would say, and it kind of lived up to that,” said Ben Rome ’10, a member of the Brown Darfur Action Network. “He did avoid certain issues like – I would say – Darfur. He made it seem like the issue was going away by itself, which is untrue. …There’s still a genocide going on – that’s seen by the world as true.”