Obama on the Record: China-U.S. Relations

Today, we look out on the horizon of a new century. And as we launch this dialogue, it’s important for us to reflect upon the questions that will shape the 21st century. Will growth be stalled by events like our current financial crisis, or will we cooperate to create balanced and sustainable growth, lifting more people out of poverty and creating a broader prosperity around the world? Will the need for energy breed competition and climate change, or will we build partnerships to produce clean power and to protect our planet? Will nuclear weapons spread unchecked, or will we forge a new consensus to use this power for only peaceful purposes? Will extremists be able to stir conflict and division, or will we unite on behalf of our shared security? Will nations and peoples define themselves solely by their differences, or can we find common ground necessary to meet our common challenges, and to respect the dignity of every human being?

We can’t predict with certainty what the future will bring, but we can be certain about the issues that will define our times. And we also know this: The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world. That really must underpin our partnership. That is the responsibility that together we bear.

As we look to the future, we can learn from our past — for history shows us that both our nations benefit from engagement that is grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. During my time in office, we will mark the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s trip to China. At that time, the world was much different than it is today. America had fought three wars in East Asia in just 30 years, and the Cold War was in a stalemate. China’s economy was cut off from the world, and a huge percentage of the Chinese people lived in extreme poverty.

Back then, our dialogue was guided by a narrow focus on our shared rivalry with the Soviet Union. Today, we have a comprehensive relationship that reflects the deepening ties among our people. Our countries have now shared relations for longer than we were estranged. Our people interact in so many ways. And I believe that we are poised to make steady progress on some of the most important issues of our times.

My confidence is rooted in the fact that the United States and China share mutual interests. If we advance those interests through cooperation, our people will benefit and the world will be better off — because our ability to partner with each other is a prerequisite for progress on many of the most pressing global challenges.

Let me name some of those challenges. First, we can cooperate to advance our mutual interests in a lasting economic recovery. The current crisis has made it clear that the choices made within our borders reverberate across the global economy — and this is true not just in New York and Seattle, but in Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well. That is why we must remain committed to strong bilateral and multilateral coordination. And that is the example we have set by acting aggressively to restore growth, to prevent a deeper recession and to save jobs for our people.

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