eteran Chinese diplomat Fu Ying recently published her second book, A Dialogue with the World, featuring 40 speeches, articles and dialogues on international occasions with a focus on the challenges China has to face, Sino-US relations, and China’s role on the world stage. An English language version is expected to be released soon.
Fu’s first book hit the shelves seven years ago, but she’s remained in the public eye due to her practical but charming “Fuying-style diplomacy.” Fu became vice-foreign minister in 2009, the first woman in this position since China started its reform and opening-up in 1979. She also served as spokesperson for the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislative body, from 2013 to 2017. NewsChina secured an exclusive interview with Fu to discuss her new book and her view of the world today.
NewsChina: What’s the story behind the title of your book?
Fu Ying: To begin with, I didn’t intend to publish this book. At the end of 2016, Qiao Weibing, editor-in-chief of China Citic Press, suggested I should publish it after he had summed up some of my articles and speeches online. The publisher made great efforts to select, edit and classify the pieces, including “International Order,” “Sino-US relations,” “Asian Peace,” and “The South China Sea Situation.” The collection is a reflection of my thoughts of the past several years,
offering a reference for readers to observe China and the world.
NC: It is a tough job to write articles, especially longer ones. What motivated you to write when you are always busy with work?
FY: To be frank, I like to read, research and write, and I brushed up these skills as a diplomat. Nowadays, I have more time to read and to meet experts and scholars from different backgrounds and learn from them. Reading and writing have inspired me to think and write. I try not to write for writing’s sake and I only write after I have some ideas. I define myself as an international communicator. On the world stage, China needs more voices, and this is what motivated me to speak and write.
NC: Why not publish more books?
FY: I like to read and admire those who write well, but I was a bit apprehensive about publishing a book. My first book was published by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press in 2011, called When I Was There – Selected Speeches of Fu Ying. It’s a bilingual collection of articles and speeches from when I served as ambassador to Australia and the UK. It was released mainly to offer a reference for Chinese to learn English and public speaking. Work on editing the sequel is underway.
Many people, both in China and abroad, knew me because of an article I wrote when I was Chinese ambassador to the UK. It has a special background. On April 6, 2008, the torch parade for the Beijing Olympics was disrupted in London, and I visited a number of UK media outlets to talk about the negative reporting surrounding the issue. These media organizations raised the same question: Why doesn’t China communicate better and faster?
Shortly after, my article “Western media has ‘demonized’ China” appeared in [UK newspaper] The Telegraph. The article got a lot of attention in the UK. I noticed that some comments were even longer than my story. Some readers disagreed with me, some expressed understanding, but what is more important is that it provoked thought and debate among UK readers.
The incident made me realize the importance of having a voice and the choices we have. Throughout my years in the diplomatic service, I have met so many people and persuaded many of them to understand my way of thinking, but the media proved to be the only channel to get more people to understand what the Chinese think. I’m also publishing another new book in September 2018 which sums up my viewpoints on the state of China’s international communication and my experience as a spokesperson for the NPC.
NC: When did you realize you had found the right way to observe the world?
FY: It isn’t appropriate to say whether it’s the right or wrong way to see the world. My views of the world get a little bit deeper every year. The knowledge you get from books needs to be tested in real life, and the feelings from real life need to be consolidated through reading. The world is made up of countries, but countries are made up of people. In sum, understanding people is the crucial way to understand the world.
When I was studying in the UK, I lived with people from all around the world who had different characteristics. Then, for example, I worked with people from various countries during UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, and fully realized that mutual respect and sticking to the truth are the keys to intercultural communication.
NC: How has English helped in your understanding of the world?
FY: I got my undergraduate degree at Beijing Foreign Studies University, majoring in English. When I graduated, China had just started its reform and opening-up policy. English opened a window for me and broadened my horizons. I could obtain information about other countries easily, read books from other countries and better observe the world and communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds. My main job is to explain China’s policies and stances to the outside world and English is a very important tool.
NC: 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up. How can the Chinese general public understand and interact with the world?
FY: China and other countries are mutually dependent. As the largest developing country and a rising power, China faces a variety of challenges. China lacks the historical experience to become a world power in the modern sense, and the country needs to learn to be a major player in the world arena. For instance, China needs to broaden its international horizons, keep a low profile and be modest enough to learn, particularly for the general public. Big powers are in a better condition to maintain and expand their benefits. Meanwhile, global powers have to weigh the costs and benefits and bear the responsibilities of humanity’s common interests.
China has to be alert to the demands and feelings of other countries and act for the broader interests of the international community. Chinese people need to grow to become citizens of the world with a global vision and mindset. It will be a gradual process, and China needs to interpret itself to the outside world more proactively and reduce resistance from other countries.
NC: You have been praised for your ability to express China’s stances without making others feel embarrassed. What’s the secret behind the diplomacy?
FY: I belong to the generation of diplomats who grew up in peacetime. I am indebted to my predecessors who were proficient in communication and negotiation. Diplomats have to know what the national interests are first and choose the best way to achieve that goal. In my opinion, smiling is the most common and most effective way of communication, and I like to express my views and stances with a smile. It is, however, not appropriate to smile on all occasions.
NC: Is it likely that China and the US will reach agreement on international order in the next 10 or 20 years?
FY: Americans prefer to use the phrase ‘world order’ and tend to consider the US as the [global] leader. Chinese people, however, prefer to use ‘international order,’ in which the UN and its affiliated agencies and the international legal system play a pivotal role. The US maintains a practical relationship with the UN – cooperating when interests coincide, but departing when they do not. In international security, the US gives priority to its alliances and rejects any political beliefs that do not conform to Western values.
Americans tend to say that China is poised to challenge the world order led by the US, but we have to first figure out the relationship between this order and China because China does not exist fully inside this order. For instance, the US’s military alliances are exclusive, and they take precautions against China. It’s just like a house in which China can enter some rooms, but not others. As a result, it doesn’t make any sense to discuss the leadership of the house.
The current problem is what future order is needed for the world and how we can achieve that. If the US is determined to lead the world under its own ‘world order,’ it has to be open to all other countries. If exclusiveness is adhered to, the US has to consider how to get along with countries outside its own world, which is one of the main reasons why order needs to be reformed and adjusted. Of course, China needs to show its own stances and choices, and I understand that China is in favor of the current international order and I agree with other countries that the order needs reform and adjustment, enabling the world community to better cooperate and deal with the problems and challenges of today.
Adjusting and improving international order is a complicated process. In history, it is improved to secure peace after reflections and compromises over war. In the peaceful environment of the 21st century, it is a major test of mankind to improve the current international order. The risk of confrontation lingers, and we have to handle it cautiously. The current international order is imperfect, and it will take time to improve it. China advocates the improvement of the international order rather than starting all over again. For example, the G20 [Group of 20] came into being to cope with the financial crisis and Paris Climate Accord went into effect to
address the deterioration of the environment.
NC: Do you think China is already a world leader?
FY: There is no world government in this world and it is only a concept that there is a ‘world leader.’ China will never bend the knee to other countries and our basis of international communication is peace and cooperation. Nor will China ever try to lead other countries. China does not have such a strategic objective and it is not the Chinese way of thinking.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has elaborated China’s outlook on the world under the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration. China will play an increasingly constructive role in international affairs. China has also proposed its own initiatives, such as the Belt and Road, which aims to benefit more countries, so we can build a future together and share the results together.