Sino-US relations are too “complex” to be reset by a single meeting between the leaders of the two countriesand the Taiwan This issue must first be recognized as a “matter of life and death” before real progress is possible, according to Cui Tiankai, veteran Chinese diplomat.
Speaking exclusively to The Post just ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s face-to-face talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden in San Francisco last week, China’s longest-serving ambassador to the US also expressed confidence in Hong Kong’s future as an investment hub. and international financial center despite geopolitical tensions.
“The Taiwan issue is a matter of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. So it’s a matter of life and death for China… there is no room for concessions,” he told Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo.
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“It’s life or death for all Chinese people. We must therefore be ready to do anything to defend our national sovereignty.”
Cui said Beijing would continue to seek reunification through peaceful means and that as long as the one-China principle was respected, “everything else is negotiable.”
But he warned of the “limits” to the extent to which the country could be provoked on the issue.
At their summit on Wednesday, Xi asked Biden directly that Washington stop arms sales to Taiwan, describing it as “the most dangerous flashpoint” in tensions between the United States and China. In public, Biden has simply said that the US one-China policy remains unchanged.
Cui, who served as Beijing’s ambassador to the United States from 2013 to 2021, has since retired but continues to actively engage in unofficial Sino-US exchanges.
“I think both countries are still in this stage or period, perhaps historic, of redefining their relations or finding a correct way to deal with each other in the future. It’s not done yet. We are still at that stage,” he said.
“For such a complex relationship, perhaps we need time to get there… The real strength of this relationship is that sooner or later, both countries always find a way to overcome difficulties and make advance their relationships.”
Cui, who was in Hong Kong for the first time in a decade to attend the Post Family Business Summit last week expressed confidence in the city’s continued prosperity and ability to attract investment, despite the politicization of his position by the United States and allied Western governments by criticizing China.
“I think Hong Kong still has all its strengths. You have a very good economic infrastructure. You have a very developed financial market. You have all the institutions and you are so open. And Hong Kong’s links with the mainland are a plus for Hong Kong,” he said.
“People should realize that, because you’re supported, you’re part of the Greater China market, a growing market, and I don’t think a lot of other economies have that kind of particular advantage.”
Cui’s optimism about Hong Kong, which he describes as one of the safest and most prosperous cities in the world, dates back many years.
He has long been a close friend of its first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, and a respected voice in explaining to the American public the “one country, two systems” policy by which the city is governed.
He also criticized Washington’s “abuse” of national security rhetoric to curb China’s economic rise, urging the United States to remove trade barriers that hamper mutual commercial interests.
On China’s relations with the world beyond the United States, the veteran diplomat expressed confidence in the so-called Global South as a force for change and peace to counter the dominant Western narrative.
Cui blamed tensions over the South China Sea on the United States, saying Washington’s military presence in the region made it more difficult for China to resolve its territorial disputes with its Asian neighbors.
He noted that China has “always” been a staunch advocate of peace during periods of severe conflict, ranging from the Balkan and Iraq wars to the current crises in Ukraine and Gaza.
“If we talk about the choice between peace and war…we clearly choose the side of peace,” he said.
At 71, Cui is widely considered “retired but not tired,” a description he jokingly disputed on Talking Post.
“I think I should enjoy my retirement,” he said.
More information from the South China Morning Post: