Remarks by the Vice President at a Breakfast with the US-China Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing


Office of the Vice President


For Immediate Release


December 5, 2013


Remarks by the Vice President

at a Breakfast with the American Chamber of Commerce

in Beijing and the U.S.-China Business Council

St. Regis Hotel

Beijing, People's Republic of China


10:12 A.M. (Local)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  And I'm so late you probably thought you were going to hear from the 48th Vice President of the United States.   (Laughter.)  I apologize.  I always, when I’m late at home, always blame it on the President.  But I can’t do that today, and I apologize for keeping you waiting. 

I remember 220 years ago, when I was in college, you only had to wait 10 minutes for a professor, 20 minutes for a full professor.  The only full professor in the Biden family is my wife -- you didn’t have to wait this long.  But thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak with you all.

Let me begin by saying one thing about competition.  I’ve told this to Vice President Xi and then President Xi, in all the time I had to spend with him, is that one of the things that has happened in the last 20 years, as the world has become more competitive, it’s awakened the competitive spirit in the United States.  Competition is stamped into our DNA.  And if there’s anything remotely approaching a level playing field, we’ll do just fine -- just fine.

And so I want to thank the American Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Business Council for inviting me here today.  You are living the U.S.-China relationship every single day, and you know the opportunities, but you also know the obstacles.  And it’s great to be back together one last time here in Beijing with our Ambassador, Gary Locke.  I say one last time because he is going to be heading back to his home state of Washington after a very distinguished career, which I don’t think is anywhere near ended, as both governor, member of the Cabinet, as well as the Ambassador. 

And Gary and I were speaking this morning as I was -- there was a telephone call, they said I’m required upstairs.  And one of the things I like about Gary -- there’s no member of -- no governor or member of Cabinet that I have enjoyed working with more, because Gary speaks English.  By that, I mean not English versus Chinese; I mean plain versus complicated.  (Laughter.)  And so when Gary speaks, everyone understands exactly what he means. 

And as you know better than I, communication is the currency, and particularly the currency that is needed most here in China.  He’s been an Ambassador to the Chinese government, but also to the Chinese people, and he will be missed.  I remember, I was here shortly after Gary arrived and every newspaper you’d pick, even though I don’t read Chinese, I’d see Gary’s picture -- because he connected.  He connected immediately with the Chinese people as a representative of our country and knowing -- the Chinese people knowing he was reaching out not just to the government, but to them.

I had a chance since I’ve been here -- it’s been a very rapid visit, and it’s been 14-hour days, but very useful -- I had a chance to talk with Vice President Li, and I will spend several hours -- and I spent I guess almost four and a half hours with President Xi.  And I’m honored that he would give me the time to go into such detail, both in a private bilat with him as well as an expanded, as well as a lovely dinner he hosted for me and a few of my colleagues.  Later, I’ll be meeting with Premier Li. 

And I want to talk to you about much of what -- some of what I’ve talked to all of them about and what I believe to be are next steps in the U.S.-China relationship. 

We’re trying to build a new kind of relationship between major powers, one that’s different, one that is defined by constructive cooperation, healthy competition, and a shared respect for an agreed upon new set of rules of the road and international norms for the 21st century. 

After World II, our grandfathers and fathers and mothers put in place a structure that accommodated the economic change that took place in the world and set up a new set of rules of the road for the remainder of the 20th century.  We’re in a different place now.  You all know it better than I do.  We use the phrase in colloquial conversation in all our countries that it’s a “global economy.”  But it’s truly a global economy -- a global economy. 

My colleagues always kid me about quoting Irish poets all the time.  They think I do it because I’m Irish.  I do it because they’re the best poets.  (Laughter.)  And William Butler Yeats wrote a poem called Easter Sunday 1916, about the first rising in Ireland in the 20th century.  And he had a line in it that better describes, I would argue, the Pacific Basin in the year 2013 than it did in his Ireland in 1916.  He said, "All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty has been born."

We’re at a moment, a window, as they say, of opportunity.  How long it will remain open remains to be seen -- where we can potentially establish a set of rules of the road that provide for mutual benefit and growth of both our countries and the region, that set down sort of the tracks for progress in the 21st century.  I think it is that profound.  I think that’s the place, that’s the inflection point we are at in our relationship now -- not only with China but the entire region.

And so the only path to realizing this vision for the future is through tangible, practical cooperation and managing our differences effectively.  We’ve not tried this before.  We’ve not tried this before.  This is going to be difficult.  But if we get it right, the outcome for our children and grandchildren can be profound -- profoundly positive.

But to move this relationship forward, there is no substitute for direct and personal engagement between leaders.  President Xi pointed out to me, because I had an opportunity when he was vice president to spend some considerable time with him at the request of President Hu and then -- and President Obama.  He made indirect reference to -- there was a famous American politician named Tip O’Neill, who I admired a great deal and was sort of a mentor when I was a young 29-year-old senator coming into Congress.  And he’s famous for having said all politics is local.  Well, I believe all politics is personal, including international politics. 

Personal relationships are the only vehicle by which you build trust.  It doesn’t mean you agree, but trust to know that the man or woman on the other side of the table is telling you precisely what they mean, even if you don’t want to hear it.  That’s why President Obama asked me to make this visit, and that’s why President Xi and I spent so much time together yesterday discussing in great detail a whole range of issues we face together that are difficult for both of us to navigate in our own political system.

These were very candid conversations.  I know it shocks you to think I would be candid.  I know that’s a shocking assertion. No one has doubted that I mean exactly what I say.  The problem is I sometimes tend to say all that I mean.  (Laughter.)  But because our relationship is so complex, getting it right isn’t going to be easy, and it’s going to require direct straightforwardness with one another about our interests, our concerns and, quite frankly, our expectations.  And that was the nature of the discussion yesterday.

Let me start with economics, not because this is a business audience, but because ultimately what matters most on both sides is our ability to deliver better for our people without it being viewed as a zero-sum game.  I have said since I met with Deng Xiaoping as a young senator, with very senior senators, that China’s economic growth is very much in the interest of the United States of America -- very much in our interest.  In my meetings with President Xi, he and I spent a good deal of our time discussing the outcomes of China’s third plenum.  China’s leaders have stated their ambition to move China toward a system where the market plays a “decisive role.”  That is a very, very big order that will require on the part of -- and I’m confident he possesses it -- the leadership of this country and the President. 

But, in fact, many of the reforms China’s leaders are proposing actually match the priorities we have raised with China over the years.  Leveling the playing field for private and foreign-owned companies -- it’s going to be a difficult, difficult transition.  Protecting intellectual property and trade secrets, which is essential.  It’s not a surprise that a number of American companies are coming home in their manufacturing.  Why?  Well, we have very productive workers, but also we have court systems that are totally transparent.  Intellectual property is protected.  It matters.  And I think it’s becoming apparent to our competitors around the world that it matters for their own economic growth.  Opening service sectors to private and foreign investment and moving to market -- to a market-demand exchange rate. 

These are welcome steps, but they will be difficult steps, and there’s no need to wait till 2020.  Again, the Chinese leadership in private has been very candid with me about the difficulty, but the determination they have to meet this, by any standard, very ambitious goal.  Of course, what matters most at the end of the day will be implementation.  There’s an old Saxon expression -- the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  But I have no doubt that President Xi and his leadership and his primary advisors intend on, mean to, are committed to making the third plenum a reality.But it is going to require substantial commitment and follow-through.

Reform anywhere is challenging.  There are always intense interests.  I know you all are so happy about our views on Wall Street reform -- not easy, but a minor -- a minor -- change compared to what the Chinese leadership has taken on.  But the more China delivers on its proposed reforms the strong our bilateral trade and investment relationship will be.

And there's a lot of work to do, and I know that many of you have concerns that need to be dealt with in the process.  There are a number of areas where, in the next two years, we can and should make progress immediately.  We have an opportunity to improve intellectual property protection, resolve outstanding trade disputes that are holding us back.  We have an opportunity to significantly expand our cooperation on energy and climate change -- where we have overwhelmingly mutual interest.  Helping China achieve new vehicle emission standards and energy-transparent goals is that we committed to this week.

Implementing our agreement on HFCs -- we have an opportunity to protect the health and well-being of our people by increasing the safety of food and drugs.  And today we've agreed on increase of the number of U.S. inspectors who are operating in China. 

We have an opportunity in the months ahead to make significant progress in negotiating a bid, a bilateral investment treaty and much more. 

The third plenum also speaks to social and political reform and identifies some important near-term steps that they want to implement -- an end to China's program of reeducation through forced labor, easing the one-child policy, a commitment to deeper judicial and legal reforms.  Any major economic power in the 21st century, these are all going to become essential requirements in order to sustain growth, in my humble opinion, through the first half of the 21st century.

As was pointed out yesterday by the President, quoting back to me, I always say I never tell another man his business, or suggest to another leader what's in the interests of his country. But the interests laid out in the third plenum seem to be very much in our mutual interest.  There are many more steps China can take to open its politics and society as well as its economy.  And as I've said before, this is actually, from our perspective, in China's interest, notwithstanding it's for them to determine their interest.  Because history tells us that innovation is the currency of 21st century success.  Innovation thrive where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences.

We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists.  But I believe China will be stronger and more stable and more innovative if it respects universal human rights. 

I was asked why we always talk about human rights.  The point I try to make wherever I go in the world when that discussion comes up is we are a nation of immigrants.  The vast majority of your ancestors who came to America came because their human rights were being violated.  It is stamped into the DNA of Americans.  No President, no matter how much he or she would like to avoid speaking to it, is able to remain silent without suffering consequences from the American public.  It is who we are.  Not that we're the citadel of human rights; we have much progress to make ourselves. 

As businesses know well, prosperity critically depends upon predictability and stability.  The United States and our allies have guaranteed peace and security in this region for more than 60 years, providing the conditions for the remarkable economic progress in the region, particularly China.  Our relationship with China is complex, though.  We have our differences and they are real.  But there's nothing inevitable about a conflict with China -- nothing inevitable about a conflict with China.  Wholesome competition and strong competition is fundamentally different than conflict. 

In fact, we see considerable common interest on the security side.  A secure and peaceful Asia Pacific enables economic growth for the entire region.  This area of the world is going to be the economic engine of the 21st century; in halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including North Korea, to stabilizing nuclear missile program, where we have real cooperation; in greater access to affordable and clean sources of energy.  It's easier to begin to talk about that in the United States and in China because as -- my President kids me -- I often say reality has a way of intruding.  Reality has a way of intruding.  And it has intruded in both our countries in terms of global warming and the effects on air quality -- storms, natural disasters.  And it is overwhelmingly in our mutual interest that we share the capacity each of us may have to deal with a more healthy environment.

We need to keep building practical cooperation and manage areas where we do not see eye-to-eye.  Everybody focuses on where we disagree with the Chinese.  We disagree with our allies in other parts of the world.  But China's recent and sudden announcement of the establishment of a new Air Defense Identification Zone has, to state the obvious, caused significant apprehension in the region. 

And I was very direct about our firm position and our expectations in my conversations with President Xi.  But I also put this in a broader context.  The Asia Pacific region will be the driver of the global economy, to repeat myself, in the 21st century, and as China's economy grows, its stake in regional peace and stability will continue to grow as well because it has so much more to lose.  That's why China will bear increasing responsibility to contribute positively to peace and security.

That means taking steps to reduce the risk of accidental conflict and miscalculation, and reaffirming -- reaffirming that we want to have better predictability and refraining from taking steps that will increase tension.  And it means pursuing -- this means pursuing crisis management mechanisms and effective channels for communications with its neighbors.

These are some of the things I discussed with Chinese leaders.  The United States has a profound stake in what happens here because we need, and we are, and will remain a Pacific power diplomatically, economically, and militarily.  That's just a statement of fact.  

When I first visited China back in 1979, as has been pointed out, I came to the conclusion then that I still share now, that China's economic growth then I thought would be good for, and now I am confident is good for America and the world.  But it has never been inevitable.  It takes work to build trust and make a habit out of cooperation, to be clear, predictable and straight with one another when we disagree, and to escape the traps that set other powers before us down a path of conflict. 

That is the work of leaders and diplomats, but it is also of citizens and businesspeople like all of you assembled before me. I believe that our success or failure in building a U.S.-China relationship that will define the world for our grandchildren to live in depends not just on political leaders, but on you as well.  I believe that the shared prosperity that you help create is part of the glue that will hold together this relationship.  So I thank you.  I thank you for your commitment.  I thank you for your hard work.  I thank you for staying in the game.  And I wish you all a great deal of luck because your success strengthens the entire relationship. 

And if we get this relationship right, together China and America, the region and the world will be better off for it for a long time to come, and that is not hyperbole.  That is -- as an old Western movie used to say in America, that ain’t brag, ma’am. That's just fact.  It is a fact that if we get this right the prospects for the 21st century being peaceful, secure and everyone sharing in the growing prosperity is real. 

So thank you all for what you do.  And may God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you very much.  Appreciate you.  (Applause.)


                        END               10:35 A.M. (Local)